"I'm coming to see you," Dahlia declared, in a voice that brooked no dissent, strong against the slight crackle of static that often plagued Hazakura's phone lines (up in the mountains, it didn't take much but a stormy night to set the wires swaying, long distance words skipping and hopping over the cracks, lights flickering in the hall). Dahlia always knew exactly what she wanted. That was the first step. The second step was finding out how to acquire it. She was good at that part too. And when it came to the execution of these plans, she was brilliant.
If Dahlia had been anyone else, Iris would have envied her all of that, but how could she be jealous of her sad, beautiful, genius sister?
It had been too long. "I'm glad," Iris answered. There was no use in asking how- she would find that out when Dahlia arrived. She already knew why.
"Be ready for me."
When it came to important things, Iris rarely knew what she wanted. When she had been small, her mother had made all the choices for her, and then Dahlia had taken that duty over. ...At Hazakura, without Dahlia at her side, she had been set adrift. It was fortunate that Sister Bikini was so kind. She didn't mind waiting while Iris dithered over what kind of gift she wanted for her birthday or whether she wanted an extra serving of curry at dinner. In her patience, she encouraged Iris to learn to choose for herself, and, gradually, Iris had learned. ...Though not always to be completely content with what she had done. She was the type to second-guess herself. She felt so much more secure when someone else was calling the shots. Someone stronger.
When Dahlia came, she would take care of everything. It would be the first time they had been in the same physical location in years.
"Would it be alright if my sister came to visit?" Just because Sister Bikini would undoubtedly understand the situation she was in and say yes didn't make it much easier to ask. Iris always felt sort of hesitant and bad about this sort of thing. It wasn't very responsible to put her guardian in this position.
"Certainly. When would you like her to come? I bet the two of you would be able to have a long time together without worrying about anyone missing any school time."
"Actually," Iris looked down at her sandaled feet, "Dahlia just sort of insisted... She's already on her way here."
"My! Well, it should take her while to arrive if she just left town, those winding Eagle Mountain roads take a while to navigate," Sister Bikini's face never lost its smile as she adapted to the changing situation. "Why don't we look over yesterday's math assignment and then take today as an impromptu holiday?"
"Oh! Yes, please!" Iris gasped with delight. Sister Bikini really was the best. The rest of the morning flew by. Iris was barely able to eat her lunch, focused as she was on Dahlia's imminent arrival. She hurried about, tidying up her small room, picking through her tiny closet in search of her favorite dress (it was pale pink, with a sash that she tied at her back in a bow), and fixing her hair. She wanted to look her best for Dahlia; she wanted Dahlia to see the trouble she had gone through to fix herself up for her.
She glanced at the clock over and over, estimating Dahlia's time of arrival. Just the knowledge that Dahlia was drawing nearer to her current location seemed to exert an invisible pull over Iris (although Iris was sure it was just her imagination- neither of them possessed even the tiniest amount of spiritual powers, to their mother's great disappointment). She couldn't stand the idea of leaving her sister waiting. It was better to be outside early.
Iris could feel Sister Bikini's eyes peeking out at her once while she waited, but her timing hadn't been too bad. The sound of a car heralded Dahlia's arrival. Cars were too few on this stretch of road for it to be anyone else (at least she hoped so).
The shiny car drew up alongside the gates and slid to a smooth stop. Iris' heart felt as though it might jump out of her chest in that initial moment of excitement. The front passenger door opened and out stepped Dahlia, a white valise clutched daintily in her hands. Iris was only two steps nearer to her sister's side before the vehicle zipped away. The urge to throw her arms around Dahlia and give her the most enormous hug she could manage (Sister Bikini had proved an excellent instructor in how hugs, both in quality and quantity, could improve one's life) rose up again, but Iris pressed it down, like sitting on an overstuffed suitcase. "Hello, Dahlia," she forced herself to keep her cheer sedate.
"Iris," her twin set the valise down at her side and nodded her approval. It was good that in their years apart Iris hadn't forgotten how things were between them- how they <i>should</i> be. Dahlia had never been one for public displays of affection, unless they served a purpose (in truth, she was not much for any displays of affection). She had been working carefully, for several years now, to cultivate her image as a demure, spring flower, but her façade wasn't quite perfected. It would be irritating to have her sister push at her boundaries.
"Did- did Father buy a new car?" Iris asked, although she was already fairly sure that the answer would be "no." The windows were tinted so she hadn't gotten the clearest look at the driver, but even from the side and through the shadows, the man inside didn't resemble their father- he was younger, with a less angular face.
"Oh, not since the last one you saw," Dahlia tossed her long, brilliant hair back over her shoulder. She clearly found it dull and unnecessary that Iris even bothered to ask such a thing, however the girls were on the same page when it came to the un-discussed topic of their father. That he would not stop the car long enough to get out and speak with his discarded younger daughter was already understood. The first time it had happened, Iris had cried into her pillow for what felt like hours- as if it weren't bad enough that both of her parents had let her go so easily, her own father wouldn't even give her the amount of courtesy an ordinary person would afford a friend of their child's.
Iris knew better now than to waste her time with Dahlia being sad about things she couldn't change. She would be optimistic instead about those things that she could- meeting with her sister more frequently, for instance.
"That was my boyfriend," Dahlia explained. A boyfriend who could drive would have to be a significantly older and more sophisticated man than Iris would have expected any girl their age to have, but Dahlia had always struck her as rather mature beyond her years. There was no denying that she was absolutely beautiful (which made Iris wonder, just a bit, if that meant she was a sort of pretty herself). Dahlia wasn't one of those girls who needed to Photoshop the photos she posted of herself online- her face, her hair, her slim figure- they really were that perfect. "It really is a relief not having to rely on Daddy or Mrs. Hawthorne to drive me everywhere."
With all the restrictions put on young drivers these days, Iris assumed that Valerie, the stepsister she barely knew, wasn't available to play Dahlia's chauffeur yet. "That must be nice," she offered.
"Oh, it's very nice, Iris," Dahlia smirked, "I've had it about up to here wasting my life locked up in this or that cage. I'm sure you feel the same. But, don't worry. The more freedom I get, sooner or later, the more freedom you'll have."
Iris wasn't quite sure what her sister meant by that, but it was probably was because she could be a little slow to catch on, not out of any odd obscurity on Dahlia's part. "Let me carry your bag," she offered. Dahlia's smile was all the thanks she required.
Sister Bikini was waiting just inside. "Hello, Dahlia. You look well. It's nice of you to visit."
"You look as jolly as ever, Sister. Thank you for hosting me on such short notice," she curtsied. "And thank you as well for taking care of Iris."
"Now that is truly my pleasure, dearie," the nun laughed, holding her wobbling sides. Some of the things Iris passed on to her about Dahlia's home life (these were the things the two girls discussed by e-mail or telephone that Iris deemed too troubling to keep to herself despite Dahlia's general prohibition on leaking any information that was exchanged between them - Iris tried to limit these slips, sure as she was that Dahlia could see through her tiniest lie) gave Sister Bikini reason to worry a little, but each time they met, Dahlia struck her as polite and content. If she had required a safe haven from her father's home, Bikini made it clear that she would be welcome at Hazakura.
Both girls were smiling as they skittered away down the hall to Iris' room. Bikini would see to it that Iris was temporarily excused from her duties and the twins were given the peace and quiet they deserved to get the most out of their night together.
"Where did you meet your boyfriend?" Iris inquired. She didn't know anyone with a boyfriend. ...Admittedly, most of the women she knew were nuns.
"Daddy hired him to tutor me." Dahlia didn't appear to find the subject very engaging. From books she had read and movies she had seen on her trips into town with Sister Bikini she would have expected it this topic to provoke more of a response. But, of course, Dahlia wasn't the type to get worked up over the little things that made and broke the worlds of other girls. Maybe the tutor wasn't even her first boyfriend. Dahlia was very mature for thirteen.
Iris decided to change the subject. "I really missed you."
Dahlia seemed to like that better. "I know."
Before Dahlia's arrival, Iris had felt as though she were bubbling over with a thousand things she wanted to tell and show her, but now that she was finally here the feeling receded like a low tide. There wasn't anything particularly interesting about her life and the world she lived in. Not compared to Dahlia and hers. But Dahlia listened politely as Iris gave her a brief overview of her simple quarters and made a few comments about her schooling at the temple and the things she had gotten up to with Sister Bikini. It was just part of the proper way to conduct a conversation. There had to be some back and forth. Dahlia even stooped to ask a few questions about the temple grounds and the nearby area. The fields of wildflowers had caught her eye. Iris couldn't blame her. The city might be more exciting, but the mountains made up for that in beauty and tranquility.
Of course, Iris' empty talk about herself was mostly meant to allow herself to relax and serve as currency to exchange for Dahlia's livelier talk of her life and her own plans. "But, please," she urged, wrapping her arms around her knees and pulling them closer to her chest, "Tell me about you. What you've been doing. Why you came. Anything."
It was an invitation Dahlia was happy to accept. She resembled both of their parents in that sense- she would never turn down an opportunity to talk about herself, however, she was infinitely more graceful when it came to making her own life into a topic that others would like to hear about. She allowed Iris to come and lean against her shoulder while she described her various exploits at school. Iris' early education in Kurain had been followed by a sort of home-chooling up at Hazakura. The public school experience sounded alternatively wonderful and horrifying. Of course, if she were in school with Dahlia, she would be able to count on her sister to look out for her. Dahlia managed to do some horribly clever things to her classmates without getting caught.
Iris wondered a little if it made her sister a bad person to be engaging in such plots, but the way Dahlia described the girls (and occasionally boys) who became involved in these feuds with her, it always seemed as though they deserved it, to a greater or lesser degree.
And Dahlia was cooking up a plot for getting back at their father too, which was part of the reason she had come out to Hazakura that day. "I'm still working out all the details," she explained, calm and cool, "Don't worry, Iris. I'll tell you everything when the time is right, but for now, I think it would be best if you didn't have to worry about it. I know how these sorts of secrets weigh on your conscience."
"Is there anything I can do to help you yet?"
"Not yet," Dahlia shook her head, "But I'll be counting on you to be completely committed to the plan when the time comes."
Things were more complicated now that they were older, but this- this was like the old days. "Of course," Iris agreed, "I'll do exactly as you say."
"...Because I don't want you to suddenly start feeling sorry for our rat of a father and backing out on me," the strength in Dahlia's voice gradually turned to steel as she gripped Iris's face and forced her to look her directly in the eyes. This part was just like the old days too. There was no doing things halfway with Dahlia. It was reassuring to have someone in charge who acted so decisively. "Promise me you won't. You have me to thank that you're not the one stuck living with him and that doormat he makes me call my mother. When she said three girls would be too many, I was the one begged and pleaded to stay with him so that you could come here. If it weren't for his terrible decision-making, you and I would still be together."
"I promise," Iris vowed. She was shaking a little with the intensity of emotion contained in that moment. "I promise," she repeated. She wasn't sure she hated their father- she didn't really think she'd ever hated anyone- but Dahlia was right about their being together. Life at Hazakura Temple suited her well, but a life with Dahlia, anywhere, would always remain her first choice.
"You'll be able to be of use to me soon enough," Dahlia assured her in return.
When they ate dinner with Sister Bikini and the other nuns and acolytes, Dahlia spoke only of pleasant, ordinary things. There was no way that anyone but Iris could have any inkling of what went on beneath the surface of the dainty, butterfly-like girl.
That night they brushed each other's hair. It was getting late, but as long as they spoke quietly, Iris doubted anyone would scold them. As ascetic as things tended to be in Hazakura, she knew that Sister Bikini welcomed a chance to spoil her.
They had done this same thing a hundred times before and their eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly, making it just as easy to do with the lights out. Perhaps it was the cover of night that brought out even deeper secrets from Dahlia. "I bet you don't know anything about sex," she announced out of the blue, running the brush mechanically through Iris' hair. The plastic bristles brushed against the tip of her ear.
"I know something," Iris insisted. Just because there weren't any men living here didn't mean that sex ed. didn't remain a standard part of an education. She did just fine on her biology lessons. So what if that was it. Wasn't she a little young to be thinking about sex, anyway? Wasn't that something for high school girls to consider? ...If she met the right boy (and she intended to be quite choosy about that because the way Dahlia told it there were lots of boys out there who weren't worth your time), she thought it would be nice to hold hands. If things worked out, she'd start to think about kissing.
"No," Dahlia replied, setting down the brush, "You really don't know anything that matters."
"Well, what about you then?"
Dahlia's hands settled on her shoulders from behind, "Oh, I know plenty. ...I've learned lots of things from my boyfriend." And she nipped at Iris' ear.
Iris nearly jumped, but she didn't want to bump her head into Dahlia's teeth and hurt her and she certainly didn't want to make any noise and cause a lot of fuss. She wasn't sure what to say. Dahlia's hands slid around Iris' body, slipping under the nightgown and stroking her pale skin. "Haven't you ever touched yourself, Iris? Or are you too pure and shy for even that? Maybe you should try it."
"E-even if I did," Iris trembled, "I can't imagine who I would think about..." Her body had never felt like this before. It was warm and cool, thrilling and anxiety inducing all at once. She was starting to wonder if there was something she should be doing for Dahlia in return. It wasn't fair to receive so much and give nothing in return.
"Might I offer a suggestion then?" Dahlia whispered, so sweet and sure, "You can never go wrong if you think about the most important person in your life."
Dahlia knew who that was. She knew everything about her. ...But could she really mean that? She was supposed to trust her sister, whatever she said, but Iris was weak, so she asked, "...even if that's you?"
Dahlia's smile was bright and cunning. Even having known perfectly well, actually hearing these words pass her sister's lips pleased her. "Yes," she agreed "Especially then."
The night was long with Dahlia's daring kisses. Their few hours of sleep seemed to come and go so fast, but Dahlia appeared none the worse for the wear as they ate a simple breakfast.
The same dark gray car that had brought Dahlia up the mountain promptly whisked her away again. "You'll be able to be of use to me soon enough," Dahlia's powerful promise echoed through her mind. Iris raised her arms and wrapped her large, floppy sleeves against herself to guard against the early spring chill. Had the atmosphere sucked all of the warmth out of her, or had it been her sister?