"Have you made friends there?" he asks. It's set aside by itself, a lonely simple line.
Yukawa's e-mails are generally terse and they bite in ways Utsumi can only describe as familiar, all angles and facts. She thinks of a drinking glass with a chipped edge, useful but no longer quite the same. Their letters are almost painful in their civility and shallow accounts of day to day.
A credit to her shame is that she recognizes the disconnect arises from herself, her twisted up sadness -- not anger or pettiness -- just a bone-deep loneliness and lack that words can't convey. Somehow, they are more strangers now than when they first met. Somehow, it's her fault.
She saves his letters anyway for re-reading -- or so she tells herself as even the thought of returning to them aches dull in her chest -- along with her own replies, named by date, in a folder she's labeled simply with his name. This is how she acknowledges she still cares, even when her own self-doubt eats away at her.
"Have you made friends there?" he asks, the question trailing after an account of his trip to the coast. It stabs. She feels it behind her eyes, a knife dripping with guilt. The dilemma is old, he writes before it, of balancing the demands of progress with those of preservation, of attempting to change when people resist it at the same time.
She tries not to read anything into it. Surely it has no relation to his simple question. Pointing out an inability to change has nothing to do with her, with him, with the words that sit unsaid between them. Still, she sets it aside for thought, to form an answer.
It's easy to wait, to let it sit and fester, as she works.
She would answer simply, but it is still not simple. Making friends is difficult; making friends used to be easier. She might not see any of these faces ever again. She cannot connect with them with ease even though some seem to welcome her, seek her out, but what little she can give of herself is too much when this is all temporary. It's all superficial, she'd tell him, but that seems like it would reveal too much to him. Another choice whispers to her, one she doesn't want to acknowledge.
"Yes, I have," she would write back. "They say I talk too much about you. Ask me if you're my lover and then say it's obvious I miss you." An honest answer. A brutal answer. A clue to her own fragility.
She would if she didn't understand that such words are weapons, that she just wants a response to a question he dumped on her shoulders, where now it digs claws of wanting that sometimes leave her with a physical ache. She would if saying this didn't leave her open and raw. She would if she could trust that the answer he's looking for held more meaning for him than the glancing attempts of her co-workers to draw her out.
This was the problem with going away. She didn't say it, pretended she would be fine. Crippling loneliness for someone out of reach is too much of an emotion to share. Grappling with that grief leaves her with nothing to say.
Has she made friends? No, not in the way that he wants to hear.
"I have company," she writes back. "They try to get me to have fun. Work comes first."
She types out a question -- Why do you ask? -- but erases it. It is easier not to let it hang there, easier to move on, and ask a different one. To inquire if he's received the last gift she sent him, to tell him about where she found it, to just shove the truth under banalities, facts instead of emotions.
And that truth?
If she says it aloud, it will change nothing. She buried it, he dug it up, and there's no life in it and never will be unless she can lay the words out in front of him.
She's avoiding the decision. Saving it for a date in the future when she goes back home.
Have you made friends he asks and under it writhes another, and maybe he didn't intend for it to squirm there, but it does: are you happy there. And digging deeper, another one, perhaps: are you happy without me?
The answer to that is no. The truth in that is that she had a friend, a support, a presence reliable, and she uprooted herself, confident that his own strength without her would be enough, only to find that hers wasn't and she only wants ...
She wants ...
She wants shelter.
She permits herself to reveal one thing. She chooses words that don't weigh heavy, that won't leak the pain she feels -- how being here makes her feel less like herself, like she's stuck between places, like her heart was buried somewhere far away from her and she'll never get it back.
"I'm tired of being here," she writes. "I want to come home."