A Perfectly Normal Kiss
"So...is that normal?"
Yumi stared at Yoshino. She froze completely, the steam from her scalding tea wafting against her lips and almost making her cough.
Yoshino was generally better at hiding her emotions than Yumi was, but at the moment she wasn't doing a very good job. She had a tense look of expectation, as if her whole body was coiled back and ready to react as soon as Yumi had the decency to respond. It made Yumi feel pressured—especially since she couldn't tell at all what Yoshino was getting at, and therefore couldn't figure out what she was supposed to say. When it came to Yoshino-san, there was always a "right" and "wrong" response.
"Uhhh…," Yumi mumbled, trying to buy herself some time. She looked around the cafe, aiming to think of some sort of distraction that might change the thread of the conversation. Unfortunately, the place was almost empty, and the walls were covered in bland abstract paintings, so she couldn't just point to something of interest and forcefully shift the mood.
It wasn't that she felt awkward exactly, it was just that she had never seen Yoshino acting so weird, leaning over the table at her with wide eyes.
Once a few seconds had passed, Yumi decided on another, slightly less clumsy tactic. "So you're asking me if it's normal for, uhh...soeurs to kiss each other," Yumi paraphrased Yoshino's question, "because...your friend did that, and now you're wondering if everybody does it?"
Yumi wasn't an idiot. She was pretty sure that the "friend" was imaginary. She also couldn't fathom how Yoshino would ever think that she'd fall for that. Maybe Yoshino expected Yumi to play along—because of course she would, out of polite consideration if for no other reason.
She had hoped that her echoing response would prompt Yoshino to elaborate, which would give her some time to think of a way to properly react, but Yoshino merely nodded. Yumi brought the tea to her mouth and started gulping it down as an excuse to delay things further.
The truth was that Yumi didn't really think it was a big deal if Yoshino had kissed Rei-sama. Every once in awhile, she had stumbled upon a similar scene in the more secluded spots of the Lillian campus—behind the lunchroom building, in the stairwell after school, in a dark corner of the library. In fact, she herself had kissed Satou Sei-sama a couple of years before in an empty classroom, though granted, they were not soeurs.
Finally, after a few seconds of awkward silence, Yumi shrugged. "I've...heard of that kind of thing. I don't know if it's 'normal' exactly, but some people do it."
Yoshino's eyes shifted. "What about Yumi-san?"
At this, a tiny little smile formed on Yoshino's face. "Have you ever done it?" she asked. "With Sachiko-sama?"
"Huh?" Yumi felt her face grow immediately warm. "No! Um, uh, not that it's a bad thing. I'm not against people doing it, if they want, it's just that...no, I uh—we've never done anything like that."
Yoshino looked at Yumi for a long time. Finally, she nodded to herself and sat back in her seat, a strange look of disappointment coming over her face. "I thought so," she said. "So it is kind of weird, isn't it?"
"It's not weird!" Yumi protested immediately.
"Yumi-san is just being nice."
"No really! I—" But Yumi stopped. She was milliseconds away from telling Yoshino about the incident with Sei-sama, but she just couldn't bring herself to do it. There was no way that she could tell anyone about it, even a close friend like Yoshino; it was just way too embarrassing.
Besides, she knew that Yoshino would chide her for having had such an intimate moment with someone other than her Onee-sama. Everyone seemed to know about Yumi's occasional philandering with Satou Sei—even Sachiko knew and did not appear to mind too much—but Yoshino was particularly judgmental about apparent disloyalty.
But maybe right now, Yoshino was the one who was afraid of judgment. Yumi looked at her with sympathy.
"There's nothing wrong with kissing your Onee-sama," she said, her voice soft. She reached over the table and put a comforting hand on Yoshino's. "Just because I've never done it doesn't mean that I haven't...thought about it."
At this, Yoshino seemed to perk up. "Really?"
Again, Yumi felt warmth rising to her cheeks. She looked away briefly. "Yes, of course. I think everyone has these thoughts every once in awhile, even if they don't act on it. And even if someone does act on it, it doesn't have to mean anything bad." She turned back to Yoshino and tried to smile as warmly as she could. "I wouldn't think badly of anyone who did it. Just because it isn't what most people do, doesn't mean that it isn't...eh...kind of normal." She was stretching it a bit with that last part, but the situation was more delicate than she had initially thought, judging from the look on Yoshino's face. "A peck on the cheek or even on the lips isn't anything to worry about, Yoshino-san."
"Thank you, Yumi-san," Yoshino said, and she smiled back pleasantly. The sad mood hadn't seemed to leave her, however. She reached over and played idly with a spoon that was still covered in a bit of residual sugar. "I'm not talking about that kind of kissing, though, Yumi-san."
Yumi cocked her head to the side. "Er...what do you mean?"
At this, Yoshino heaved a deep sigh. She pulled her hand away from Yumi. She looked down and towards the side, at some random spot on the floor that Yumi couldn't see from her perspective. "Rei-chan and I kissed when she came home from University to visit last week. We were alone in my room at night when it happened."
"I see," Yumi said with a question in her tone. Yoshino still hadn't answered what Yumi had asked, but with a growing feeling of tightness in the pit of her stomach, Yumi was starting to get an inkling.
"We didn't kiss the way two friends would kiss," Yoshino explained after some hesitation. Her tone had grown more severe. She was still looking away. "We kissed the way a man and a woman would kiss each other."
Yumi stared at her, stunned into a deep quiet. It was a silence that extended beyond the room and filled her brain. After a moment, though, her body launched into action. She reached over and took Yoshino's hand in her own once again.
Her friend looked up at her in surprise.
"Yoshino-san," Yumi said, glancing around the room. "Let's not talk about this here. Let's go somewhere more...private."
The place wasn't crowded at all, but Yumi knew that Lillian students often came into the cafe, since it was so close to campus. If anyone were to overhear so much as a piece of such a conversation...well, even as the current Rosa Chinensis, Yumi would have no way of stopping the rumors from spreading all over campus and eventually reaching the school newspaper. And she wasn't sure if a sweet bun would be enough to bribe Mami-san this time.
Yoshino didn't object as Yumi paid the bill and dragged her quickly out of the cafe. After wandering in silence in the surrounding neighborhood, they eventually passed a park that looked acceptably pleasant—and more importantly, secluded.
Yoshino was the first to plop down on a bench, her eyes still a bit distant and blank. Yumi sat next to her and waited.
"I'm sorry to throw this all on you, Yumi-san. You really don't deserve it." There was a crooked smirk on Yoshino's face. "I just don't know who else to talk to, though, and it's been burning inside of me all week."
Yumi nodded. If she herself had been in the same predicament, holding it all inside would probably have sent her on the brink of an explosive panic attack.
"Yoshino-san," Yumi prodded gently, "when you said that the two of you kissed, did you mean that it was the way...lovers kiss?"
Yoshino was quiet at first as she appeared to think about it. Before long, though, she began nodding. "Yes. We kissed like lovers, not like soeurs. I know that for some rare people, there's no difference, but for us there is—there was. We've kissed before, the way that you described earlier, like a peck on the lips or whatever. I think the first time was when I was around ten years old, after I saw a romantic movie and wanted to give it a try." Yoshino grinned at that, but the expression faded just as quickly as it came. She leaned back on the bench and still didn't quite meet Yumi's gaze. "I didn't really think anything of it. It always seemed pretty normal. This time it was different, though. Very different. I don't think it was normal this time."
Again, Yoshino had omitted the specifics, but Yumi could more or less gather them. An awkward, light kiss between two Lillian students behind the gymnasium on graduation day was not the same as an adult kiss that awakened the more...base desires in a person.
But Yumi had no first-hand experience when it came to the second kind of situation. The closest thing she had to that was the kiss she shared with Sei-sama—which had certainly made her heart pound—but it hadn't even been directly on the mouth. When she really thought about it, she had no idea where the line was exactly between a chaste kiss among friends and a feverish kiss among lovers. She thought that maybe her kiss with Sei had been somewhere in between, but Yoshino didn't seem to be talking about any gray areas.
"Maybe we've never been normal, and it was only something extreme like this that made me realize it," Yoshino murmured. She reached up and touched her lips with the edge of her fingers. "I was so happy to see her. It had been so long. The moment we were alone together in my room after having dinner with the family, the moment we closed the door, we hugged each other—but even that was different this time. There was something more to it, something...desperate?" Yoshino stared at a far off point; her eyes seemed to land on the swing set near a wide sandbox in the distance. "There was a different feeling in my body this time. A reaction I never had before. All of a sudden, it was like I could feel every part of Rei-chan's body against mine, like my nerves were extra sensitive to it. I couldn't shake the feeling that I wanted something. I'm pretty sure Rei-chan felt it too because, without even thinking, I moved up to kiss her, and she kissed me back right away."
Yumi tried to hold back any reaction, but she couldn't help the look of increasing surprise that was probably dancing around her face. Inexplicably, the story was making her legs feel hot for some reason, too.
"We kissed for a long time," Yoshino continued, "longer than a 'hello' kiss. Also...deeper than just a peck. It wasn't an innocent kiss, Yumi-san. It was probably something we shouldn't have been doing."
Yumi swallowed. "What makes you say that?" Though of course the question sounded a bit silly, a bit naive. Of course they shouldn't have been kissing like that. That wasn't the sort of thing any young lady from Lillian should have been doing, even—in theory—with a boy, let alone her own soeur.
"We kissed a few more times like that," Yoshino said. "To be honest, we were about to do...other things, too, but Rei-chan put a stop to it before long. She pulled away suddenly and got really awkward and tried to start random small talk out of nowhere. 'So, Yoshino, how has the kendo club been doing since I left?' Stuff like that. It was like she snapped out of it and there was a wall between us that I couldn't reach through after that. Even when she left to take the train back to her school, her goodbye hug was really stiff. I was half-surprised she didn't just shake my hand." Yoshino finally turned and looked at her with a pleading gaze. Her eyes seemed a bit moist, but she wasn't yet crying. "What can I do, Yumi-san?"
So she had come to Yumi seeking actual advice. Yumi couldn't object to being a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on—they were close friends after all—but she couldn't understand what gave Yoshino the impression that she could offer any sound advice. Perhaps as an outsider to the situation?
Yoshino seemed to realize what Yumi was thinking. "I didn't mean to put you on the spot, Yumi-san, and you don't have to answer if you don't want to," she said, "but I couldn't very easily ask Shimako-san. It would be too...weird to mention this to a future nun. She has kind of that pious air about her, you know? It might be unfair of me to assume this, but I can't imagine her ever having experienced sexual feelings before."
"Eh?" Yumi was a bit shocked by Yoshino's bluntness. "But you can assume that about me?"
Yoshino shrugged. "I see the way you look at Sachiko-sama."
"That's different," Yumi said immediately. "I love Onee-sama very much, but I don't look at her with any of those kinds of intentions."
"Fine, maybe you don't—but I've also seen the way you look at some of the other girls in the changing rooms before gym class, and you can't tell me it isn't with those kinds of thoughts."
Again, Yumi merely stared at her, speechless. She tried not to be offended, but of course it was nearly impossible, especially since what Yoshino was saying was entirely true. It was just that Yumi had assumed this whole time that no one had noticed.
Yumi was quiet for awhile. She shifted a little with embarrassment and gave Yoshino a sideways glance. "So this is why you came to me," she said.
Yoshino nodded. "I don't mean anything bad by it, Yumi-san. It doesn't bother me if you're like that. Sei-sama is like that, and I never had a problem with her. It's just that I'm not like that, and neither is Rei-chan. Or, at least, I thought we weren't."
"Maybe you're only like that with each other," Yumi said, "or maybe it's just more complicated than that."
"How complicated can it be?" Yoshino had a pained look on her face. "You either like girls or you don't, right? Maybe when you're a first year in high school, you might have a crush on a senpai or whatever, and it doesn't mean anything, but when you get to be our age, it starts to mean something, doesn't it?"
"Yoshino-san, is Rei-sama just a girl to you?" Yumi asked.
Yoshino raised an eyebrow at that. "What do you mean?" She was drumming her fingers nervously against her knees.
"I mean that maybe some people like girls, and maybe for other people, it doesn't matter either way." Yumi reached over and pressed down on Yoshino's hand to silence the violent fidgeting. "Maybe you love Rei-sama, not as a girl or anything else, but just as a human being."
Yoshino seemed to contemplate this, her fingertips curling slightly into her palms as she leaned forward. "I do love her," she whispered. Her voice cracked a little. "I love her the way you love someone who you want to marry."
Yumi's eyes widened at the blunt confession, and she tried her hardest to keep her expression neutral. She leaned towards Yoshino, but stayed quiet and waited for the rest.
"How can that be, Yumi-san?" Yoshino was looking away again, an expression of realization on her face. "I want to marry Rei-chan. If I really think back, whenever I've imagined my future husband, or future married life, it's always been Rei-chan's face in that vision. Maybe I didn't think anything of it before because I had never experienced any...physical desires—not when it came to Rei-chan or anybody else. Not until what happened last week." She stared down at her hands. "I want to marry Rei-chan, but how would I even do that? It's nonsense, isn't it? It could never happen."
Yumi began nodding in agreement, but then stopped. She looked hard at Yoshino until Yoshino finally turned her head up to meet her stare. "Yoshino-san," Yumi said, her face dead serious, her head tilted to the side thoughtfully. "Why can't you, though?"
"Why can't you marry Rei-sama?"
Yoshino gave her a wry look. "Besides the fact that it's not legal, Yumi-san?"
"It's not illegal for two people to live together. And, as far as I know, it's not illegal for two women to have that sort of relationship, either. Also, your families are so close that it would be trivial for one of Rei-sama's parents to legally adopt you," Yumi said. "That would give you basically the same privileges as marriage, wouldn't it? You would even take her family name."
Upon hearing this, Yoshino was quiet for a long time. Still, she shook her head. "Even if all of that were possible and our families either never realized what we were really doing or they somehow were never bothered by it, I can't assume that Rei-chan would want the same thing I do. She's always wanted a normal family with children. Obviously, we could never give that to each other, no matter how much we tried."
Yumi blushed a little at that, though she wasn't sure why. She gave Yoshino's hand a squeeze. "You could still have children, Yoshino-san. There are ways to do that outside of a...normal marriage. Any children that either of you have would be related to both of you, anyway, wouldn't they? You and Rei-sama are first cousins, right?"
"Then wouldn't it make more sense to do that instead of roping a man into a sham marriage just to have children? That wouldn't be very fair to your future partner if you secretly wanted to be married to someone else."
"You're still ignoring a very key point here, Yumi-san," Yoshino said, a sad smile on her face. "You're being rather optimistic considering that Rei-chan basically rejected me. If she can't even look at me the way she used to, it's kind of a stretch to think that she'd agree to marriage."
"Maybe I am being optimistic, but I'm not saying these things just to make you feel better. I really do feel this way," Yumi said. She wondered for a moment how much she should say, how far she could go without spilling over into the realm of intrusiveness. She took a breath and continued: "I'm not going to pretend to know all the details of your relationship with Rei-sama, but I've watched the two of you together for years now. It's really not a stretch to think that she might feel the same way you do. It's possible that she doesn't want to...influence you. Maybe she thinks that her feelings are wrong, and she created some distance because she thought it was for your own good."
Yoshino looked at Yumi with some alarm. "Do you think that's why she moved so far away?"
"It's possible. There's no way to know unless you ask."
Yoshino shook her head again rather vigorously. "I can't ask her about that, not after what happened."
"Yoshino-san...it's already awkward between the two of you, right?"
"Very. She hasn't even called me since she left, even though we usually talk almost every day."
"Then what do you have to lose?" Yumi leaned in a little further until they met eyes again. "Call her up and ask her about it. Tell her everything you told me."
"Yumi-san, you're insane. Your brain must be melting if you think I'm going to do anything like that." Then Yoshino paused for a long time and stared at Yumi with an unreadable expression. "Maybe my brain is melting, too," she whispered finally, "because I think I want to do it."
After that, the silence between them stretched for a long time, and they both stared up at the rose-colored sky as the light waned around them. Each seemed to fall into her own thoughts—Yoshino with thoughts of how to build up her courage, Yumi assumed; and Yumi with thoughts of how to make her staring more discreet next time she found herself in the changing rooms before gym class.