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From the Ground Up

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Even with all of the money from the REVOCS assets poured into relief efforts, it takes a while. The city smells like charred brick and smoldering steel, broken glass always underfoot. The air from the sea blows through town in the early morning and makes everything taste of salt, fish, and ash. 

It takes a while, and it takes work, but this has never been a city full of slackers. 

 


 

Ryuko rents a small apartment in a complex that somehow survived falling off its original hillside. The landlord cut her rate in half in thanks for helping with the repairs, and though it looks plain—she doesn't have very many possessions—she finds it cosy. The whole Mankanshoku family, even tough-guy Mataro, had nearly cried when she moved out, but the surgery was half-demolished when they finally found it under the rubble and Ryuko felt guilty taking up the family's floor space.

"Besides, it's a little perverted to live with my girlfriend's parents, don't you think?" she'd teased, and reassured Mrs. Mankanshoku she'd come for dinner once a week. 

She does odd jobs: deliveries, construction, babysitting now and then. She hands out food supplies when the government shipments come in, but that she does for free. It's not about making money. She takes payment in the form of fresh-baked bread from the neighbors' bakery, a bouquet of daisies from the mailman, a crocheted blanket from the old woman down the hall. From her bedroom window she can watch the streets grow busier every day, crowded with laughing children chasing pigeons, fathers heading to work, and customers lining up to be the first visitors to newly reopened shops. 

Ryuko lives alone, but if she leans out the window and shouts, "I'm home!" there is always someone who will look up and welcome her back.

 


 

For their fifth date, Ryuko drives Mako to the outskirts of the city and pulls over on the highway. 

"They've finished installing the streetlamps," she explains, "and this is the best seat in the house."

They countdown the seconds like it's New Year, and as they reach "Zero!" the city awakens. They cheer as the lamps flicker on, lining the streets like a cluster of stars being revealed from behind a cloud. On the ride home Mako hugs her tight around the waist, breath warm on the back of Ryuko's neck. 

"Love you," Mako says, giggling into her ear like it's a secret she wasn't supposed to have told, but couldn't help herself. Ryuko smiles as she drives, headed straight for the towering city of lights.

"Love you too."


 

The waitress asks if she's ready to order lunch, but Ryuko refuses. "I'm waiting for my sister. I'll try the bubble tea, though."

Satsuki arrives a few minutes later, standing in the doorway until she notices Ryuko waving. She smoothes her hair behind her ears when she sits down and orders an iced tea with lemon when the waitress returns. 

"Sorry I'm late," she says, squeezing the lemon into her glass. "The trolley tracks aren't fully repaired yet, so I walked the rest of the way."

Ryuko nods. "Don't worry, I wasn't here long."

They sip their drinks in a silence, but not an unpleasant one. The sun comes in through the windows of their corner of the café, bathing everything in the warm afternoon light. Looking out over the buildings on the hillside—some covered with clotheslines and flowerpots and chattering housewives, others mere metal skeletons, crawling with construction workers and volunteers—Ryuko can just glimpse the sea.

"They're building a new high school," Satsuki says, "a real one. Government-funded, standardized tests—"

"—No landmines or death penalties." A tapioca pearl from the bubble tea bursts in Ryuko's mouth, sweet and gummy between her teeth. Satsuki smoothes her hair back again.

"I was thinking you should run for student council."

"Hmm." Ryuko twirls her straw. "I've never really been the leader type. Not for nerd stuff like that, anyway." She stretches her arms over her head. "And with grades like mine, I'd need one hell of a campaign manager."

Satsuki smiles. "I might be able to recommend someone."

Ryuko offers her hand to shake, and Satsuki takes it.

"You're on, sis."