The beach in March was a pale and gray thing, a dull reflection of summer. Most of the shops hadn't opened yet for the season; the rest catered to the locals, who eyed Nanami like a potentially worrisome eccentric. She walked into town once for groceries, felt their gazes tug and tear at her like hooks, and finally snapped when a little boy gawked at her as she arranged her bags in her arms.
"I'm here on a normal vacation!" she told him, much louder than she intended.
The gazes intensified, and she resolved not to enter their territory again. As if she wanted their greasy food and cheap souvenirs.
On her first evening, she discovered that the heat and half the lights didn't work in the beach house and that no one in her family had thought to stash any thick blankets in the closets. One call to her parents would have put that right, but her parents would want to know what their daughter was doing alone on the shore after insisting that she wanted to stay at Ohtori during the break. How could she possibly answer?
So she huddled on the sofa in the dark, wrapped in all the sheets she could scavenge, and nibbled strawberry Pocky while trying to will the television antenna to a less fuzzy angle. She must have dozed, because she woke, still huddled, to ambient light and a static-chopped report of rain.
Through the patio door, Nanami watched the gray waves break on sand the color of tarnished silver. Empty beach houses extended along the shore on either side of her, all black windows and bare clotheslines. Thick clouds drank the color from the sunrise.
She rose, shivered at the chill of the wooden floor on her bare feet, and padded to the kitchen. The carton of eggs she'd bought had survived the walk back, but when she tried to crack one against the edge of a skillet, her stomach twisted. She should have eaten a real dinner. How childish of her, to have eaten only sweets and fallen asleep without even brushing her teeth.
After putting two slices of bread into a toaster that was probably older than she was, she tiptoed back across living room toward the bathroom. Midway, she froze like a rabbit in the road. The hem of her nightgown hit her heels.
There was someone on the beach.
Nanami dived behind the sofa and peered over it cautiously, wishing she'd brought a shinai or a saber or Tsuwabuki or anything at all to brandish. The figure on the beach didn't move. It had its back to her, she noted now, and didn't look too threatening: a woman, slight and dark-skinned, standing at the edge of the waves, thick curls spilling down her back over a pink dress that burned like summer against the gray.
Indignation smothered fear and propelled Nanami out onto the porch, where the wet chill had seeped deep into the wood. "What are you doing out there?" she shouted. "Are you stupid?"
The woman turned slowly, as if drifting out of a daydream. She didn't even look like a woman, after all, just a girl not much older than Nanami. Raindrops slid down her arms and along her brown valise.
Obnoxiously, the girl tilted her head and smiled as she approached. Nanami bent over the porch railing to yell, "Hey! You're trespassing, you know!"
"Am I?" The girl's voice was smooth and cheerful, untroubled by the revelation that she was a phone call away from being arrested. She halted when she was close enough to speak at a normal volume. "I thought most people didn't come to the beach until the summer."
Nanami's knuckles strained against the railing. "Listen, that's none of your business! You do you think you are?"
Still smiling, the girl tilted her head the other way. "You don't remember me? We attended Ohtori together."
Nanami would have remembered, surely; the girl was so weird, and already getting under her skin. But there was something almost familiar to this automatic dislike, and an entire year of Nanami's memories had distorted into a shadow play, vague and shifting behind a screen that she could not find her way past. All that was clear was Touga—
No. Nanami shuffled her numb feet and asked, "Who are you?"
Foreign, of course. "Just Anthy?"
The girl smiled like a sphinx. "Just Anthy now."
Every tilt of her lips and lilt of her voice made Nanami grit her teeth. "I'm Nanami," she said quickly, before the girl could claim to have known already. "This is my beach house."
The smile shaded feline. "Just Nanami?"
"Just Nanami" had been the point of coming here, insofar as she could put one to words, but Nanami refused to give the stranger any satisfaction. Instead she pushed away from the railing, crossed her arms, and said, "What's your problem, anyway, standing around in the rain like that?"
Anthy raised her wet valise. "I'm on a journey. There's someone I hope to find."
Nanami sniffed. "On a beach in March?"
Rain slid down Anthy's face, between her eyes and into the curves of her mouth. Her expression remained unnervingly steady. "What do you hope to find here, Nanami?"
The storm was accelerating. Somewhere not far inland, thunder rumbled. Anthy waited in the downpour like a drowned thing crawled back from the sea with a belly full of secrets. Her smile sealed a lost year.
"Don't just stand there," Nanami snapped. "The neighbors will see you." As Anthy ascended the steps to the porch, she glanced briefly but purposefully at the empty houses on either side. Nanami pretended not to notice.
Instead, she tossed an old beach towel, faded from a vibrant to an anemic red, at Anthy, with stern instructions to dry off before she came inside. Everything in the house was a little old now, come to look at it; apparently it was only cleaned when the Kiryuu family came to inhabit it, and the family hadn't come for a few years now. Her hostess-eyes spied dust on the television, crumbs on the sofa, cobwebs in the corners.
Scandalized, Nanami shifted her weight in a nervous dance. "If you stay," she decided aloud, "you're going to have to clean! And you should be grateful I'm not having you arrested."
Anthy hummed noncommittally. When Nanami turned, scowling, she found Anthy naked at the threshold of the door, wringing her hair dry with the towel. Her pink dress dripped over the porch railing.
"What is—what—why are you—" Nanami's tongue seemed to be connected to her eyeballs; every time they skipped and halted, so did it. Her brain looped through frantic circles: Anthy's breasts were so round on the bottom, and her hair grew so thick between her legs, and her nipples were so dark, and Nanami was too flustered to work out which of them was the weird one.
Anthy tilted her head languidly. A fat bead of water rolled down her throat, between her breasts, and into her navel. "Yes?"
At last Nanami's body coordinated itself long enough to spin her around so that she could blush furiously at the wall. Her tongue came unstuck with a high-pitched wail: "Why are you naked?"
"My dress is soaked. I can't dry myself while wearing it." The only thing more obnoxious than Anthy's pleasantly calm tone was Nanami's dream-deep certainty that she knew, that every barrier to memory would crumble before her. Already a narrow crack opened in the screen, giving Nanami a glimpse of Anthy curled naked over a sleeping Touga, her head turned just far enough to let one eye gaze at Nanami with inscrutable intensity. If she was just another of the swarming vermin, she was also something horribly more.
The crack slammed shut like a door, and Nanami curled her hands into fists. "Did they kick you out of Ohtori for being a freak?"
"I chose to leave." Water hit the floor of the porch, loudly enough to be heard over the rain; Anthy must have been wringing out the towel. A click signaled the opening of the valise. After a series of noises that Nanami hoped were fabric settling into place over skin, footsteps headed toward the kitchen. "Shall I make us breakfast?"
Cautiously, Nanami turned and watched a crimson dress disappear around the corner. She breathed deep and waited for the heat to drain from her face. When she was confident her voice wouldn't come out high and thin, she replied, "Yes. I'm not in the mood for eggs."
Amid the faint clatter of cupboards being rifled through, Nanami settled in on the sofa, wrapped the sheets around herself, and wandered aimlessly through television channels with the remote control. Static-static-sumo-cartoon-commercial-static. One channel gave her glimpses of a period drama between crackling bursts of snow: a samurai, a woman in tears, an arrow boring through the sky.
Nothing felt real yet today. When she blinked, static flickered on the backs of her eyelids.
"Do you have any beef?" Anthy called from the kitchen.
Nanami hadn't eaten beef since... she didn't remember, exactly, but the sight of it made her queasy and oddly sympathetic. Scowling, she muted the television and said, "No. Why would you make beef for breakfast, anyway?"
"Mmm." Cabinets opened and closed. As Nanami eased sound back into the television, Anthy announced, "I'll make shaved ice."
Nanami twisted around on the sofa, sheets clutched to her chin. "What is wrong with you? It's freezing!"
Anthy peered around the corner, smiling, with the largest knife in the kitchen in her hand. "It's my best dish," she said, as if this explained everything, and disappeared. Unpleasant scraping noises commenced.
Gritting her teeth, Nanami turned the television's volume as high as it would go. Even static was better than that noise.
The easy thing—and the smart thing, too, probably, not to mention the safe thing—would be to shoo Anthy back out into the rain and call the police. And then Nanami could shiver alone until school began again, wondering why a dead place in the back of her brain had begun to itch.
"This is stupid," she muttered. The television straddled the signals of the period drama and one set in a high school; the heart of a battlefield flickered into two girls whispering in the back of a classroom. The sounds were the same, all growling snow.
Shivering, Nanami curled up tighter on the sofa. Rain and scraping and static droned a lullaby.
A heavy greyness slid over her, and she let herself sink.
Anthy kneels before her, featureless as a shadow, exhaling warm air over Nanami's bare feet. "Vermin!" Nanami laughs, fingers fanned regally. "You have to do whatever I say."
But her mouth goes still and dry as soon as the words leave it, and she can't even flinch when Anthy presses ice-cold kisses first to her ankle, then up her calf, raising the hem of her nightgown. Another kiss, and Anthy vanishes beneath the fabric. Tremors build in Nanami's belly and radiate through her paralyzed legs.
When Anthy's lips flutter just above her knee, Nanami finds her voice and uses it to blurt, "This isn't—I didn't say!"
Warmth finds the inside of Nanami's thigh, followed by the sharpness of teeth. She yelps and pulls up her nightgown. Through the shifting pink haze of her vision, the girl at her feet becomes and always has been Keiko.
She gazes up with a smile, lips bright with blood.
Nanami bolted awake, flailing against the sheets. Stupid, stupid, stupid, falling asleep while some freak who was probably a serial killer played with knives in the kitchen—
Something really was moving up her leg.
Shrieking, Nanami kicked and went rolling off the sofa in a tangle of sheets. A gray blur shot out from the vicinity of her ankles and streaked down the hall toward the kitchen.
"Rat! Rat!" Still kicking in case it had friends, she flailed about for the remote and managed to mute the television. "You let vermin into my house!"
There was silence from the kitchen; apparently the ice shaving had ended. After a beat, Anthy replied, "I don't see a rat anywhere."
"Then it's hiding!" Nanami's first effort to stand up sent her flopping belly-first into the sofa. When she got her breath back, she tried extricating herself a little more slowly, one limb at a time.
Metal rattled in the kitchen. "I don't see a rat hiding anywhere, either. Are you certain you weren't dreaming?"
"Yes!" Finally free, Nanami perched warily on the sofa and scanned the floor for signs of rodent. "I was dreaming about—none of your business!"
From entirely too close behind her, Anthy's voice said, "Breakfast is ready."
Nanami's startled twist nearly cost her her balance. As she grabbed the back of the sofa and steadied herself, Anthy watched with a perfectly smooth face and a vacant smile, a bowl of variegated ice in either hand. There was something about her—something missing around her. Her chin should have been tilted to gaze at someone much taller, her hair bound up neatly, her eyes distorted by glass. Because when she wasn't, when she was loose and bare and fallen—
"I also found toast," Anthy said brightly. The burnt remains of Nanami's original breakfast plan garnished the ice like massive crackers.
Nanami's eye twitched. "Weirdo."
"Thank you." Anthy sat delicately beside her of the sofa and set both bowls of ice on the table. Cheeks warming, Nanami scooted away and ended up on the armrest.
The silence expanded like a soap bubble, trembling thinner and thinner until it popped on Anthy's "Itadakimasu." She picked up her bowl and brought a little spoonful of yellow ice to her lips.
"I'm not hungry," Nanami said, gaze snapping to the wall. Her stomach gurgled.
Anthy's spoon clinked against her bowl. "So how is your brother now?"
"What do you know about—" But there Anthy was in the borderlands of memory, a red-and-dark ghost haunting kendo practice or fencing matches or something sharper and altogether different. The imagined weight of hilts curled Nanami's fingers.
Though the question went unfinished, Anthy replied, "I knew all the Student Council." A spoonful of deep red ice darkened her lips and tongue.
Flustered, Nanami crossed her arms and faced the television. Girls gossiped in between the dying. "He's about to start his first semester at Todai."
"Oh? I asked how he is, not what he isn't doing yet."
Nanami bristled. "Getting into Todai is very prestigious! Not that there was ever any doubt, but you should be impressed." With a hmph, she changed the channel to sumo. "And he's fine."
"And Saionji Kyoichi?"
For an instant, Anthy was in an Ohtori uniform, hair rolled up tight, cheek reddening, and Nanami's hand was Saionji's was not her own.
Grabbing her spoon for the sake of having something to point with, Nanami went on the offensive: "Listen, I'm asking the questions now! How do you know anything about anyone? Why can't I remember you? Who are you?"
Anthy paused, spoon halfway to her lips. "I'm surprised that you've forgotten me," she replied, turning with a smile. "After all, you did sleep in my bed."
Because Touga—because she couldn't stay after—and nothing fit right, neither the strange bed nor its interlocked twin, with its strange bright bend in the light—
Nanami had no words, only frantic flashes of sight and sound and barefoot cold. Flustered and sputtering, she tipped sideways off the armrest and landed flat on the floor.
"Chu," said something that tickled her ear.
"Rat!" Nanami thrashed upright, and a panicked leap took her to the top of the low table, where she flailed with all four limbs, shrieking. An uncoordinated kick broke her balance; the sofa broke her fall. Still kicking, she tangled herself in the sheets. "I told you there was a rat!"
"Ah, you must mean Chu-Chu."
Nanami ceased kicking and straightened up slowly, muscles stiff with fury. Beside her, Anthy held her forefinger extended as a perch for a bizarrely proportioned gray beast. It let out another "chu."
"You have—" Nanami's eye twitched in time with the creature's enormous ears— "a pet rat?"
Anthy shook her head with a bright smile. "He's a monkey. See?" She turned her hand to display its furry tail and hairless buttocks, then produced from nowhere a banana, which the hideous thing gobbled up.
"Why is it in my house?"
"Wouldn't it be cruel to leave him out in the rain?"
It was cruel to be left outside. She stood on the wrong side of the greenhouse glass, the wrong side of the shower door, the wrong side of a bloodline, and the only thing crueler was to be let in. Into the council, into the car, into what she'd never wanted, not like that—
Anthy's spoon rang against her bowl like the clapper of a bell. "Do you usually wear your nightclothes all day while on vacation?" she asked mildly.
With a loud huff, Nanami pushed herself off the couch and stormed off into the bedroom where she'd left her luggage. She slammed the door behind her, locked it, and leaned against it until her hands stopped shaking.
How was she supposed to think straight when she couldn't even look at Anthy without feelings things that she didn't understand and didn't want to? Without fissures opening over memories better left buried? Better, probably, to leave the year sealed away and pay her shadows no more mind than any other nightmare.
Her resolve lasted as long as it took her to put on a pair of tights, a skirt, and a sweater. Whatever happened when she returned to the living room, it would not end with Anthy going away. She needed a plan. She needed a goal. She still needed breakfast.
To stop herself from pacing, Nanami flopped backward on the stripped bed. Through the window she could see only gray, thick and restless with rain. Had it rained that day with the kitten? Memory flattened the world to grayness, seeping out from the line she hadn't seen until after she crossed it.
In the back of the car, the line was bright red screaming—
She curled up tight on her side, tucking her knees to her chest. All she remembered clearly from that year was the shattering in her chest when she realized that Touga was adopted. Then it was all shadows and static until a vague recollection of having tea with her brother and his friend after kendo practice, when everything was all right. Forever, traumatically altered, but all right.
Before and between she had nothing but snatches of fever dreams: blades in her hands (had she fought?), blades in her chest (had she died?), a clanking bell, Keiko forgetting her place, the stars at the end of the world, the car (stop), and Anthy the wedge cracking it all open. Trying to grab any one of them was like trying to grasp boiling water.
Nanami closed her eyes and listened to the slow, steady collapse of the sky.
All around her the ocean is rising. Touga stands beside her, younger and softer, more smiling than smirking. His hand grows heavy as a stone in hers.
When the waves cover their heads, the ground dissolves beneath them, and they sink together. Nanami holds on until her lungs burn, until she squints at her brother through the darkening water and realizes that he is a statue. She lets go and floats.
The surface is all blue, ocean and sky muddling together. Tsuwabuki floats past on a raft laden with green bananas. On a speck of an island, Keiko, Yuuko, and Aiko prick themselves with a hook and take turns fishing for Touga. No other land is in sight. Untroubled, Nanami drifts with the tide.
She washes ashore like driftwood, or a mermaid. Perhaps she could eat her own flesh and live forever.
Wet sand turns into carpet beneath her, and clear sky into familiar walls: this is her bedroom. Anthy waits naked on the bed, dripping wet and smelling of storms. Her smile is the first line of a riddle.
With trembling hands, Nanami unbuttons the shirt of her school uniform. Undressing is more difficult than she expected; beneath her shirt is another shirt, and another beneath that, and so on until the floor is piled with clothing. Every pair of underwear she's ever owned works its way down her legs.
At last she is naked. All sense of scale eludes her; her head feels a kilometer away from her feet. She stares at Anthy across an undulating sea of fabric and asks, "What now?"
She woke to the silence after the rain. Her body throbbed and her head felt like a bowling ball full of porridge, which was better than it being full of the things she didn't want to think about.
"Chu?" came from somewhere entirely too close to her ear.
Nanami came up swinging. When her flailing did not bring her the satisfaction of landing a blow, she opened her eyes and scanned the room for any sign of freakish rat-monkeys. There was none, even when she peered down under the bed.
"The door was locked!" she shouted indignantly at the universe. No one apologized.
Her gaze fell on her nightgown, which she did not remember having draped over the foot of the mattress. As she watched, stomach twisted tight, the fabric slid over the edge and landed heavily on the floor.
Something ripped inside her, and the rest of the scene spilled out to superimpose on her vision: the bent arm and wild tangles of hair, the bone-white of the couch, the artificial stars projected against the dark, the man who was supposed to be better—
back in the observatory, back in the car, back on the platform with swords in her hands and heart, back in a strange bed staring into the big stupid noble eyes of a girl who didn't belong in the world anymore, back and back and
—back in the living room, suddenly, neither remembering nor caring how she got there. Nanami loomed as best she could, whole body heaving with her breaths.
Anthy looked up from dusting the television, now silently tuned to an old foreign show in black and white. She had changed back into her pink dress, which still looked damp. "You're awake," she said, voice lower, without smiling.
Nanami's lips drew back from her teeth. "You. You..." No word was powerful enough to come next; every candidate buckled under the weight of what she had to say. At last, in a childishly small voice, she managed, "You made me forget."
"The revolution cracked the world apart; Ohtori smoothed over the obvious mess, and that's all you can ascribe to my power."
Hatred as pure and clean and simple as a knife would have been easier, but instead Nanami's emotions thrashed like a nest of eels. She grabbed the slowest-moving ones and thrust them behind, "Why?"
Anthy laid her duster down, a process which appeared to require great concentration. "If the egg's shell does not break," she began, and paused.
"The chick will die without being born." The words came automatically, unbidden. Nanami's stomach dropped, as if her body were rising fast. "I remember."
Anthy nodded. "But even after the shell is broken, the chick will return to it, because the darkness is familiar and safe." She paused again before meeting Nanami's eyes. "I'm sorry. This is no way for me to find her. We should both be free, but there's still cruelty enough in me to toy with you."
"Well, you should be sorry." The tangle in Nanami's chest finally began to loosen, and words flowed out in familiar tones. "What do you think you're doing, messing around with my head and making me remember all that?"
"You were beginning to remember on your own. Otherwise, I wouldn't have found you."
The world through the window was still and silver, like an old photograph. On the television, an American woman twitched her nose in a way that made Nanami's itch; when she rubbed at it, she felt wetness on her cheeks and wondered when she had started crying. "What are you, anyway?" she asked as sternly as she could.
Anthy held her gaze. "Once upon a time, there was a little girl whose brother was a prince. She wanted nothing more than to be his princess, but she couldn't, of course, because she was his sister. So she had no choice but to become a witch."
Nanami scowled. "Then you're nothing like me. I don't want to be his princess. I don't want to be anybody's princess, or anybody's prince like that weird girl, or a duelist, or anything. I'm sick of it! I threw that ring away because I was so sick of it." Her voice had begun to tremble, and she had to wipe her eyes with the back of her hand. "Why would I want to be a witch?"
"Why wouldn't you? It has nothing to do with duels or Rose Brides or seeking eternity in your coffin; it goes wrong only if you cling to what isn't yours to keep." Anthy's hand extended, palm open. "But it's your choice. We all have choices now. Let's grow up."
Sunset burned away the clouds, letting the last of the orange light through to flicker along the tops of the waves. The first few stars gleamed icicle-clean in the east. In the deepening dusk, Nanami dug a small pit in the damp sand, and Anthy filled it with driftwood and paper of uncertain origin.
Nanami found a box of matches in the kitchen, but a tiny fire already flickered in the pit when she returned. Anthy rippled her fingers above it like a puppeteer, coaxing a dance from the flames, and looked up with a smile suggesting a shared secret.
With a shrug, Nanami dropped the matches and dangled the sandals by their straps. She cleared her throat and spoke slowly, picking her words like roses: "I hid these from him when I was nine and he was thirteen. He said he'd build a sandcastle with me, but he kept walking into town so those stupid girls would swarm around him. So I made sure he couldn't leave." She'd been so proud; no one thought to look behind the fridge. "Our parents bought him a pair of cheap plastic flip-flops, but he was too embarrassed to wear them around girls. He was mine for the rest of the week."
Anthy moved her hand aside, and the sandals hit the fire one after the other. The driftwood cracked and scattered to make room for them.
As the scent of burning leather suffused the smoke, Anthy unrolled her red dress and shook it out against the stars. "I left him," she said, voice low and steady. "I've never been so frightened, or so strong." A trick of the light made the fabric appear to shrink and grow, from a child's size to something large enough to envelop a car. "But I didn't quite let go."
The dress drifted down into the flames, where it blackened and stank. Nanami wrinkled her nose and stepped back. As the horizon shaded from violet to black, she asked, "Is that it?"
"That's it." For once, Anthy's smile reached her eyes. With a clear, bright laugh, she tugged her dress off over her head. She hadn't bothered wearing underwear.
Nanami let out a scandalized shriek. Her face burned; she raised her hands to hide her cheeks but left her eyes uncovered. The firelight licked the curves of Anthy's silhouette, dancing with her as she twirled.
Still laughing, Anthy took Nanami's hands and pried them gently from her face. "Come on. Are we free, or aren't we?"
There was nowhere safe to look; wherever Nanami's gaze settled, it settled in to stare. "It's cold," she protested, squirming away from Anthy's touch. "We'll both catch colds! What's wrong with you?"
"Shh," said Anthy. "It's not cold."
Impossibly, it wasn't. Nanami stamped her foot. "Listen, just stop it! First you give me weird dreams, then you do whatever this is, and I'm not like you! I'm normal! I'm—what's that look for?"
The look acquired a curl at the edge of the lips. "I've teased you, but I've done nothing to your dreams."
"But you—" Nanami's face blazed. Her eyebrow twitched wildly.
She had never wanted any boy more than she had wanted Touga. She had never wanted any other boy. And all she wanted Touga to be, once she was forced to dig down into her heart, was her big brother.
She had never wanted anything but a brother.
"Oh my god." Nanami sank down on her heels and huddled.
Anthy's hand warmed her shoulder. "It's all right. It's not anything to feel frightened or ashamed of."
Nanami snorted and hunched inward. "That's easy for you to say. You don't even care about being normal."
"Witches generally don't," Anthy replied. "'Normal' is just too... small." Her fingers swept gently up Nanami's nape, brushing beneath her hair. "And remember that you won't be fourteen forever."
Flinching landed Nanami on her backside in the damp sand. Glowering up at Anthy, she said, "And how old are you?"
"I don't remember, nor, I think, would you believe me." Anthy hovered for a moment, hand extended, before finally retrieving her dress and slipping it back on. This time Nanami moved to accept before pressing her hand to stomach, prompting a concerned, "What is it?"
Nanami bit her lip, which did nothing to quiet the angry gurgling in her belly. "I'm really, really, really hungry."
Spices wafted out of the kitchen to where Nanami sat cross-legged on the sofa. All the lights that hadn't worked the night before shone brightly after Anthy touched them. The television was off, its black screen offering Nanami her own darkened reflection.
Chu-Chu scurried up the armrest to peer at her, and when she didn't immediately last out at him, he offered her half a banana. Despite her efforts to savor it, she ate the fruit in two ravenous bites.
"It's almost ready," Anthy called from the kitchen. She emerged less than a minute later with two plates of curry on rice, one of which she held out like a peace offering. "It won't explode."
"Hmph. Do you have any idea how long I spent wondering why I was afraid of elephants?" Nanami accepted regardless and dug in with her spoon. Either the curry was good, or she was too starved to recognize poor cooking; once she started eating, she stopped only to breathe.
Anthy ate slowly, and eventually stopped altogether to speak: "I've spent the last year walking the world for her. I'm no closer to finding her, though I see traces of her everywhere. The outside world was not always like this, so wild and welcoming and cruel and kind. Or perhaps it was, and she gave me the power to perceive it." Her spoon traced patterns through her food. "I think change must flow in every direction at once, from the butterfly to the hurricane and back again."
This all sounded dangerously close to the madness of a Student Council meeting. After swallowing the curry in her mouth, Nanami said, "Well, good for you. What am I supposed to do now?"
"It's a limitless world outside; just don't lock yourself away from it, and you'll be fine." Anthy leaned back into the sofa with a smile, letting Chu-Chu scamper onto her shoulder. "I'm going to be the change she brought and bring her flowing back."
Nanami took another bite of curry and watched the lump move down her reflection's throat. "You're not sleeping in my bed tonight," she said.
"Did I ask to?"
In the morning, Anthy made shaved ice, which Nanami this time capitulated and ate. It wasn't bad, actually, and a cup of tea afterward took the chill off. Outside, the clouds dispersed.
"We're both going to be all right," Anthy said, as she stood at the door with her valise in hand and Chu-Chu on her shoulder. "If you ever look for me, you'll find me; we always find our own."
Nanami crossed her arms and shifted her weight, wishing she could feel something that didn't come packaged with awkwardness. "What makes you think I ever would? I can do whatever I want. You said."
"Hmph." Nanami's search for a better comeback ended when Anthy rose on tiptoes to kiss her on the forehead, drawing a rush of blood and heat to her face. The feeling lingered like the scent after a storm, like the sting after a slap.
Without another word, Anthy set a little white hat on her head, smiled with lips and eyes, and walked out into the sunlight.
Nanami watched until she vanished into the horizon, then closed the door. The house was silent and empty and redolent of curry; there was no point in staying any longer. She could catch the afternoon train back to Ohtori or her parents' house or anywhere at all.
The lamp by the sofa no longer turned on, though it had for Anthy the night before. Nanami cupped her hand around the light bulb and watched, fingers tingling, as a firefly glow suffused it.
She could go anywhere at all.