The Clarity of Distance
Rei jerked up in her bed. A throaty gasp racked her body. Her brain snapped into consciousness so abruptly, that at first she didn’t recognize her room, her mind still adding elements of the dreamscape into her waking vision. She had been dreaming about her old life, about her old bedroom in Tokyo and the low table where she used to sit with….
She blinked a few times and her foggy eyes wandered around the space. They darted from the empty bed next to her, to the pile of clothes that she had discarded haphazardly on the floor hours before, and finally to the source of the screeching that had awaken her so suddenly.
The phone was ringing. It buzzed so hard against the nightstand that the vibrations were broadcasting across the floor and reaching the bed. Rei let her hand hover over it for a few seconds, unsure whether she wanted to answer it or ignore whoever had the nerve to call her so late in the night.
She wasn’t a fan of the thing anyway. It had been a gift from her uncle, but most of the calls had been mistakes so far and it would often go dead for days at a time because she’d forget to charge it.
Tonight, though, the odd little tune and the insistent vibrations seemed more crazed than usual, like the person on the other end was calling her with feeling. It was a silly notion; obviously the ringtone always played the same way. Maybe it was the grogginess that was making everything seem so loud.
It could be a family emergency. Why else would someone call so late? Something might have happened to Mom or Dad or Uncle or Yo—
Once the thought passed through Rei’s mind, she slapped her hand against the phone, clumsily smashed the “talk” button, and jammed it against her ear.
“Hello? Hello?” she cried out, more panic in her voice than she had intended. Now that her thoughts had gone in a more dramatic direction, she couldn’t help the barrage of apocalyptic fantasies that played through her brain. Could someone have been in an accident? Or caught in a natural disaster? Or been murdered by an axe-wielding maniac? “Hello? Is something wrong?”
A subdued chuckle came through from the other end. It was so familiar that Rei felt her chest tighten with emotion, as much as she fought the reaction.
“Nothing’s wrong, Rei-chan. Don’t worry.” The voice felt sweet to her ears, like a favorite song from her youth that she could listen to endlessly. Still, a part of her couldn’t fight the bitter aftertaste that always seemed to follow it these days.
She was trying to forget that voice. She was trying to reach a point where she didn’t need to hear it anymore. Until that moment, she thought she had been doing fairly well. They had seemed to fall into an unspoken agreement and they hadn’t called each other for months.
But as soon as she heard that voice….
“Yoshino?” Rei managed to husk into the phone. Her whole body was tense. The only thing that seemed to make these moments tolerable was the fact that Yoshino was hundreds of kilometers away. Even if Rei was tempted to give in, there was only so much that her soeur could do to wear her down with such distances between them. “What’s...going on? Did something happen?”
“Nothing happened, I told you! Quit being so dramatic and look out the window.”
Rei felt her whole body tense up.
“Go on, look! You’re in building 272B, right? On the South side?” There was the usual playful amusement in Yoshino’s tone, a voice that was either oblivious to the deeper things or very good at pretending that it was oblivious.
“You don’t mean…?”
The bed creaked as Rei ambled out of it. The sheets, still quite wrapped around her legs, followed her onto the floor. She pressed a hand to the window pane beside the bed and peered out into the darkness below her.
She was on the second story, so she had a wide enough vantage point to see much of the grassy landscape of her school. Her eyes followed the lines of the concrete paths of the garden, followed the rows of cherry blossoms and rose bushes. Near one of the lamp posts, her gaze stopped abruptly. She felt her stomach lurch, her heart thumping in her ears like the loudest drum she had ever heard.
She stared out the window, frozen in place like a statue. A cute girl with loose straight hair waved up at her. There was a smile on the girl’s face, a smile that Rei used to see all the time, a smile that seemed to pretend that nothing had changed at all since the day they had separated.
Rei dropped the phone. It clattered onto the floor, hitting the side of the nightstand loudly on its way down.
She pressed her hands to her face and squeezed her eyes tightly shut.
No, she thought. Yoshino, I can’t. Not now. It’s too soon.
Though she never knew when it wouldn’t be “too soon.” She had been in love with Yoshino since the moment she had been able to even feel such emotions. She couldn’t fathom ever feeling differently. Her only solution so far had been avoidance—and after their last phone call the summer before, she had thought that Yoshino understood.
“Rei-chan? Rei-chan?” the slightly garbled voice that emerged from the phone on the floor seemed so far away, almost unreal.
Rei felt herself stooping to pick it up, fighting the panic that was pressing like a weight against her ribs and making it hard to breathe. She pressed the phone to her ear again, but she didn’t stand back up, didn’t look out the window.
“Yoshino,” she murmured, her voice raspy even to her own ears. She couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Sorry the train came in so late, Rei-chan, but I decided to come here kind of last minute, so I didn’t plan it out all too well.” The smile was still in her voice. “I tried the doors to the front of the dormitory building, but they were locked. I guess you’ll have to come let me in, huh?”
“I’ll...come down right now,” Rei said, not knowing what else to do. The fall semester had just barely begun, so it wasn’t cold outside, but she didn’t like the idea of Yoshino wandering around in the dark.
The thought of her standing alone out there was enough fuel to push Rei out of her daze momentarily, to send her dashing through the room, throwing on her clothes and shoes as quickly as she could. The air whistled in her ears as she sprinted out the door of her dormitory and down the stairs. With each pounding step as she bounded down the staircase, a mix of fear and anticipation expanded inside of her.
When she pushed the glass door open and shuffled into the cool air, she didn’t even have time to search for Yoshino. The figure of a short young woman was running through the darkness already, heading straight for her, crashing into her without preamble or hesitation. Yoshino pressed her face hard against Rei’s chest and Rei thought she felt a shudder run through them both.
“Rei-chan,” she whispered. Rei felt Yoshino’s breath hot against her skin, passing through the layer of her shirt easily.
“Yoshino.” Again, it was all she could say. She pressed her mouth to the top of Yoshino’s head, taking in a deep breath that was filled with a scent that she had not indulged in for what felt like ages. Her arms seemed to wrap themselves around the girl on their own. She felt the beginnings of tears, but held them back. “Yoshino...what are you doing here all of a sudden?”
And that was when Yoshino finally tilted her head to look up at her. Her earlier cheeriness had faded. There was a serious look on her face, one that finally seemed to acknowledge the unspoken tension. “Rei-chan, take a walk with me,” she said.
Taken by surprise, Rei pulled back a little. “You came all the way here for…?”
“We need to talk, Rei-chan.” She took a shaky breath. “Please. Don’t pretend anymore. I tried to keep myself back, I really did. I tried to wait for you to bring it up those few times we’ve talked since then—but today was the breaking point. It’s been three months.”
A long moment passed, a moment where Rei simply stared at her in silence. When Yoshino was far away, sometimes it seemed like the girl had been reduced to a figment of Rei’s imagination, nothing more than a recurring character in her dreams. The distance allowed her to say no, to have some sense of resolve, to pretend that everything between them had not been real.
But faced with the real thing, she was weak. And Yoshino was right—she couldn’t pretend that things had not been left hanging unresolved when she had left.
She sighed. She closed her eyes. After a few seconds, she found herself nodding in reluctant agreement. “We can walk,” she said. With the last bit of strength that she had in her, she pulled herself away from Yoshino and began leading her through the pleasant little path lined with well-manicured trees.
Before long, Yoshino had come up beside her, though, and was keeping up with her long strides perfectly. “How...have you been?” Yoshino began, though her tone sounded like it was filled with a hundred other things that she wanted to ask instead.
Rei pressed a hand to her temples and rubbed the spot right above her eyebrows. She felt all of the tension flowing into her head. She felt her jaw tightening. “I’ve been fine. Things are good. How is everything back home?”
They walked side by side through the gardens, passing a few sweet-smelling flowers, brushing against a few bushes in the more narrow spots. The space between them grew and shrank with each step, as if neither of them knew for sure how far to stand away from the other anymore.
As much as seeing Yoshino filled Rei with a sense of nostalgia, she also knew that things were different. They had never been the same since that night. Even before then, things had been slowly changing between them in ways that neither of them seemed to be able to control.
Yoshino didn’t answer her mundane question. She let out a loud sigh of exasperation. “How long are we going to do this, Rei-chan?” she asked suddenly. Her limits were clearly much more defined than Rei’s. Yoshino had always been the impatient type.
“Do what?” Rei asked, though she knew what she meant—at least to an extent.
“Why can’t we talk like we used to, without all this awkward stuff between us? Why can’t things just be normal again?” Yoshino said, but her tone was not one of genuine asking, it was more one of desperation.
Rei stopped in her tracks. They were standing under a cherry blossom tree that had long-since cleared itself of its blooming flowers. Only the leaves remained.
“Talk to me about normal stuff, then,” Rei said, a bit irritated all of a sudden, though she wasn’t entirely sure why. “If you want to be normal, then be normal.”
“Fine!” Yoshino said, a bit too loudly, enough passion in her voice that it made Rei take a startled step backwards. “Fine, let’s talk about normal things that girls talk about, Rei-chan. Let’s talk about school and the kendo club. Oh, wait, I know! Let’s talk about boys!” she rambled. Her hands tightened into fists. “Are you popular here? Have you been on any dates? Do you have a boyfriend? How about more than one? I know you’re a real man-eater!”
Rei’s eyes widened and she clasped her hands against Yoshino’s shoulders, looking at her with bewilderment. “Yoshino, I—”
But Yoshino stepped back and slapped her hands away. “Why did you disappear?” she cried out, her face filled with rage. “Is that why? Did you meet someone here? Did you find someone else and then decide that you wanted to pretend that nothing ever happened between us?”
“No!” Rei shouted over her. “No, that’s not it at all! I just—”
“Why can’t that be it? Why can’t that be the reason, Rei-chan?” Yoshino said. “I could accept that reason. It makes perfect sense. But I can’t accept no reason at all. I can’t accept that you just gave up and left and refused to talk to me simply because you’re a coward!”
Rei pressed her hands to her face and took a few backward steps until her legs hit the front of a bench. She groaned in frustration and let her body go slack. She slumped into the seat. “By now, you should accept my weaknesses, Yoshino,” she murmured, her voice low and meek, her throat tightened with emotion.
To her mild surprise, she felt Yoshino sitting down next to her. “I will never accept them, Rei-chan.”
A long while passed. Rei would not look at her. She only stared at the pale concrete beneath her feet, at the tiny ant hill that had formed between one of the cracks.
“A small...part of me hoped that you had found a girlfriend or something, that that’s why you had been ignoring me,” Yoshino whispered, the fury draining from her voice. “If it was something normal and stupid like that, I could be okay with it. I could let all of this go.”
“A girlfriend?” For the first time, some amusement filtered into Rei’s tone. When she turned to look at Yoshino, the girl suddenly seemed a bit sheepish.
“Yeah,” Yoshino said. “For a long time, I had figured that you wanted a husband. I know you want a family, a normal household, that sort of thing. But when I really thought about it recently, I realized that I couldn’t really see you with a man. At first, I thought that it was because I couldn’t picture you with anyone besides….” She trailed off. She rubbed the back of her neck with her hand. “Anyway, after I had a conversation with Yumi-san about it a few months ago, I gave it some real thought for the first time, and I realized that picturing you with a man was just laughable—no offense.”
Rei stared at her. “You discussed this with Yumi-chan?” she said with some alarm. “You told her about…?”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry.” Yoshino waved her hand around. “I didn’t tell her everything. I told her that...we had kissed that night you came to visit during the spring, but I didn’t tell her everything else that we did.”
“Yeah, I know, I feel a little bad that I kind of lied to her, but when I looked at that innocent face, I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her that we had...you know.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Rei groaned, rubbing her face hard. “I can’t believe you told her even that.” She felt herself blushing as if Yumi were standing right in front of her, even if the girl was probably fast asleep in a city hours away.
“Who else was I going to tell? I was confused and you weren’t answering the phone!”
Rei found herself nodding. “I guess it’s always my own fault.”
Yoshino sighed and seemed to squirm in her seat for a second. “So...am I wrong?” she said, her voice sounding very awkward. “Do you just not want to be with a girl? Is that what the problem is? Is that why you won’t talk to me anymore? I can accept something simple like that.”
“That’s not...the problem.”
“I mean, I guess neither of us knows for sure. We’ve only been with each other, right? How much information can we really glean from that to make sense of it?” Yoshino paused. “Unless...have you been with someone else before? I guess I never thought to ask.”
Rei tensed immediately, but said nothing. There was another awkward pause.
“Oh,” Yoshino said after a moment. Her voice sounded lightly disappointed. “Was it before or after...me?”
“After,” Rei said. She had barely been able to force out the response.
“Oh wow,” Yoshino murmured, “so it was recently.”
“Yes.” She wasn’t sure how much she should tell her, so she didn’t volunteer any more. A barrage of memories from that night during the summer filled Rei’s brain—the taste of Sachiko’s skin, the feeling of being in that affectionate, almost playful embrace. They were good memories, ones that she had been able to think back to with a smile and very little awkwardness.
But now that she was facing Yoshino, she felt an unexpected burst of guilt.
She had slept with someone else, and that was bad enough, but there was no way she could tell Yoshino who it had been with. That’ll just make it worse, Rei thought.
What’s more, her encounter with Sachiko that warm summer night had not seemed to affect their friendship negatively at all. Sachiko still called her every once in awhile, and there was no awkwardness, even though they never talked about what had happened. Sachiko’s voice even sounded warmer now, with a new layer of fondness. Oddly enough, it had seemed to have an effect that was quite opposite to the aftermath of her night with Yoshino.
Perhaps that was the difference between sleeping with someone out of feelings of attraction and friendship, as opposed to sleeping with someone out of feelings of attraction and...desperate clinging. She and Sachiko wanted nothing from each other; she and Yoshino demanded the world from each other—and so she and Yoshino could hurt each other very easily.
“Is it someone I know?” Yoshino prodded. On the surface, it just seemed like a random question, but Rei knew her well enough to realize that she was trying to narrow it down, that the wheels in her head were turning. “Or was it a girl that you met here?”
A girl. So she was sticking to that assumption. This bothered Rei for some reason, even though she was right about that detail. Rei threw Yoshino a wry look, but Yoshino didn’t seem to catch the meaning and merely stared at Rei with expectation.
When Rei didn’t answer again, Yoshino began nodding slowly. “Okay,” she said. “If that’s the case, then I don’t know if I want to know who it was.” She paused, then asked suddenly, “Do you love her?”
Rei stared at Yoshino. “Uh...sure,” she stammered after a moment. “Yes—but not like that. We’re just friends. It’s not like how it is with you and me.”
“That’s just it. How is it with you and me, Rei-chan?”
Yet again, Rei had no answer. She could only helplessly stare.
A pained smile came over Yoshino’s face. Her teeth were gritted. She was pressing her hands hard against her knees. “I’m jealous,” she said finally. “I’m not going to lie, I’m really, really jealous right now. Before, when I tried to think of you with someone else, it was kind of abstract, you know? I actually thought for a second there that I could accept it. Now that I know someone else has actually been touching you and seeing you naked...it’s different. It hurts.” She turned her head to look at Rei directly. “Why do I still feel that way? It’s not like we’re married. We were never even going out or anything. I have no right to be angry that you’ve been with other people.”
“It was only one person,” Rei replied, though she wasn’t sure why she was saying it. She didn’t really think it would soften the blow that much. “And it only happened once and that was it.”
“Do you think it would happen again?” Yoshino pried further. She had a tone that sounded like she was trying to stay neutral, but she wasn’t doing a very good job of it. Her voice was already rising with emotion.
“I had sex with Sachiko,” Rei blurted out. As soon as she said it, her heart began pounding so hard that she found herself wondering if it would burst out of her chest. She felt her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. “It was with her, okay? So it’s nothing you have to worry about. We’re not interested in each other like that.”
Yoshino’s face went entirely blank—except for a huge, wide-eyed stare. The growing anger had completely melted away in an instant; it was like someone had flipped a switch that had turned off every emotion except utter shock. “Sa—” Yoshino began to say, because clearly she could never be speechless for very long, but she stopped. She put a hand to her mouth, which was now slowly creeping opening as Rei’s words sunk in.
Rei completely turned her head away, her face burning. She looked far off into the distance, at the shadow of some tree near the senior apartments.
“I…,” Yoshino tried again. Rei heard her adjusting in her seat and could hear some tension rising and falling in her breath. “Wow, yeah...I can’t say I expected that. I was way off. I was thinking—” She cleared her throat. “Okay,” she declared finally, “I’m still jealous. But you’re right: it does make me feel better that it was her, of all people. I can’t really get mad at her for something like that.”
Rei snapped around to look at her again. “Why does it even matter who it was?”
But Yoshino didn’t answer. There was a weird little smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “Boy, if I was someone else—like a regular student at Lillian who had never made friends with you or been part of the student council or anything like that—this would be a juicy piece of gossip, let me tell you.” When Rei merely stared at her in horror, Yoshino shrugged and looked back a her for a few awkward beats. The suppressed smile widened a little, even through the obvious pain. “Was she any good, at least?”
“I’m sorry!” Then Yoshino erupted in nervous laughter. “I’m sorry, Rei-chan, I just...couldn’t help but ask.” Her face settled into a tiny smirk. “I’m not mad at either of you, I only...wow. Yeah, I can’t picture it. It doesn’t even sound real. How does something like this even happen?”
“I don’t know,” Rei said, and it was true that she didn’t. Even to that day, she had no idea. It was almost as if Sachiko had led her into it with her feminine wiles—and looking back, she probably had. “It just happened. I can’t describe it. It’s none of your business anyway, is it?” She said the last part with a touch of irritation.
Yoshino put her hands up. “You’re right, you’re right. Like I said, it’s not like we’re married. It’s not like I’m your girlfriend. It doesn’t really count as cheating, does it?” Yoshino paused for a few seconds, as if she were mulling something over. “I went out on a date with a boy over the summer myself,” she confessed. “We didn’t do anything like that, though, not even close. And I spent the whole time just wishing that he was you. I started thinking about what it would be like if you had been born a boy and we had been engaged the way Sachiko-sama and Kashiwagi-san had been.”
Rei felt her own breath hitch. She looked at Yoshino very carefully. “Don’t say things like that.”
“Why not?” Then Yoshino’s face became serious again. She appeared to steel herself. She pressed her closed fists harder against her thighs and met Rei’s gaze directly. “Rei-chan...I love you. Not like soeurs, okay? Not even like friends or family. I love you the way people who want to get married love each other. I want to kiss you and have sex and stuff like that—it’s that kind of love. And I don’t regret what we did when you came over during the spring.” She moved her head to keep eye contact when Rei started to look away. “Do you understand what I mean?”
Rei understood. In fact, she had already known. It was just that neither of them had ever laid it all out so plainly before. It had always been this unspoken tension that Rei had never dared to address, and that Yoshino had either similarly ignored or seemed oblivious to until they had crossed an obvious line.
But it just wasn’t right. It just wasn’t something that people were supposed to do. She had watched over Yoshino since childhood, and she couldn’t suddenly change the relationship dynamic so radically. Wouldn’t that be taking advantage of her? Hadn’t Rei already done enough damage by giving into the temptation once?
“If you’re scared,” Yoshino said, “I get it. So was I. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Yumi-san insisting that I talk to you about this.”
Rei groaned. “Good God, what else did you tell her, Yoshino?”
“Nothing you need to worry about,” she said, “but I told her that I wanted to marry you, that I had only ever pictured myself with you all of my life. You were the only husband I could ever envision.”
Once again, Rei felt her whole body tense up. “You don’t know what you’re saying, Yoshino.” But her voice was weak and the resolve just wasn’t there. Obviously, Yoshino knew exactly what she was saying. It was just that Rei had always found this truth particularly uncomfortable. “This relationship...has no future. Sooner or later, you’ll want a normal life and you’ll want to leave me behind. I can’t hold onto you like that. It’s for your own good.”
“Oh yeah? And who gets to decide that? Just you?” The anger was suddenly back. “Rei-chan is an idiot,” she said. “I know why you moved here now. It’s because you thought I was going to leave you anyway, isn’t it? It’s because Rei-chan is such a coward that she couldn’t bear risking that. Is that it?”
Rei looked at her, speechless. She swallowed hard and felt that warm well of tears finally threatening to spill over. “It’s for your own—”
“Bullshit!” Yoshino shouted, loud enough that it echoed against the walls of the nearby buildings and Rei momentarily looked around in a panic to see if anyone had heard. “Rei-chan is a liar, too. What ‘good’ does it do me to date other people or marry someone else when the person I want to be with is right here? I can’t even imagine a life without you. For awhile, I thought that maybe we could marry other people, and then continue what we had in secret, but what kind of life would that be? A coward’s life. Is that what you want?”
“Yoshino, I….” Rei put her face in her hands. “No matter how much I may want to, I can’t say yes to a life with you. It’s just not healthy. This goes beyond the fact that we’re both girls and could never legally marry in this country, or that our parents would probably be against it if they ever found out. It’s just that we’re too close to each other. We suffocate each other, Yoshino.”
At that, Yoshino shifted away a little. “I’ve suffocated you?” For the first time, there were tears in her voice.
“We’ve done this to each other, Yoshino. Don’t pretend that you don’t know. We’ve held each other back.”
Yoshino was quiet for a long while. The wind whistled through the trees. Some branches rustled overhead. Suddenly, the garden felt even larger, emptier, more disorienting than it had before.
“It’s true...that there are ingrained patterns between us. We help each other keep a lot of bad habits, don’t we?” Yoshino finally said. “But that’s nothing we can’t fix. Don’t you even want to try?”
Rei looked up. “Yoshino, please don’t make this difficult. We can’t keep going on the way we were. That life is in the past. Things were already changing between us before I left. I can’t continue to watch over you and take care of you the same way I always have. You don’t need me anymore.”
More silence. Yoshino’s expression became nearly empty again, except for a small grimace that was growing as she appeared to set her jaw.
“And who says that I want to be with you because I need you?” she groaned, her voice low, full of disgust.
Rei stared at her with alarm.
“You think I really want the relationship we used to have, Rei-chan? Haven’t we been through this before?” she cried. “Yes, things are changing between us. That’s good! That’s the kind of relationship I want, don’t you see? I want a relationship that can change when it needs to. Actually, it was already naturally changing into something else...something more grown-up. That’s why I don’t regret what happened. It’s you who was trying to make everything stay the same between us.” Then Yoshino sucked in a loud breath and looked out into the gardens, a disappointed expression on her face. “Rei-chan truly is an idiot,” she repeated softly.
“You’re wrong,” Rei said after a moment, shaking her head. “A relationship doesn’t just change by itself like that. Not when we’re close together, living in the same place, talking about the same things every day. Like you said, we have patterns between us, and that dynamic would be hard to escape. Because of who we’ve been in the past, we’re holding ourselves back from becoming who we’re meant to be in the future.”
“Then we’ll make some distance,” Yoshino said.
“That’s what I’ve been trying—”
“No, you’ve run away, Rei-chan. You’ve run away with no intention of coming back,” she said. Her voice cracked a little; there was what sounded like the edge of a sob, but it didn’t quite come out. “We can have space. We can let go of all that stuff from the past and start a new relationship, with those fresh feelings that strangers have with each other. I want to be with the Rei-chan of now, not the Rei-chan of years ago.”
“That’s impossible,” Rei said, “there’s no way we can let go of everything between us.”
“Rei-chan is too afraid to even try?” Yoshino asked. When Rei didn’t respond, she continued, “We can try to be separate for four years, until you finish university. But if it’s been four years and we still feel like this about each other, I don’t want to pretend anymore. I can’t live a lie. We should move in together and get married after you graduate.”
Yoshino was smiling at her. It was a nervous, teary smile, but it was nonetheless a smile of finality. Her tone had been one of resolve, as if everything had already been decided.
Rei took a shaky breath. Her heart was dancing around in what felt like an incoherent rhythm. Without thinking, she finally said, “In four years, if you still feel this way, I’ll do whatever you want.”
But you won’t feel this way, Rei thought. She didn’t say it out loud, though. She only watched Yoshino carefully.
The smile on Yoshino’s face gained back a tiny bit of its usual confidence. “That’s good enough for me, then...for now.” She reached out and took hold of Rei’s hand.
Then there was silence. It stretched out for a long time and filled the space between their mutual stare. Slowly, Rei responded, moving their hands so that their fingers were gently interlocked. She gave Yoshino a soft, exhausted smile.
Yoshino’s expression changed a little. She seemed abruptly more aware of their surroundings and started scanning her eyes around the garden, like she had been broken out of a daze. “Where am I supposed to sleep tonight, anyway?” she asked suddenly. “Is your room mate going to be okay with me staying up there? I guess I didn’t really think this through very well. I just kind of jumped on the train on impulse. I don’t even have any luggage.”
Rei let out a long sigh. “I’d scold you, but I guess there’s no point now,” she said. “You can borrow some of my clothes. My room mate is gone for the weekend, so I guess we lucked out there. Nobody will notice if you stay for just one night.”
A wicked smile began to grow on Yoshino’s face. “So we’ll be all alone tonight, huh?” she asked.
“There’ll be none of that,” Rei told her sternly. Her voice was so serious that she almost believed it herself.
When they got up, it was Yoshino who led them down the path, through the winding gardens lined with perfectly trimmed bushes and cherry trees. Rei felt Yoshino squeeze her hand and she squeezed back in kind. When a cool breeze blew across them, they both drew closer, as if on reflex, until the sides of their bodies were pressed warmly together.
Rei’s eyes fluttered open. She was met with darkness at first, but soon enough her vision began to adjust and she could see the room again. She felt like she had been dreaming, but this time she couldn’t remember any of it.
Nothing had specifically awoken her. Her brain just seemed to have decided that she had reached the end of her dream. She was more or less comfortable, lying on her back, her head slightly tilted on her pillow. A warm breath was hitting her neck in a constant rhythm, and she allowed her eyes to drift down to its source.
Yoshino was mostly covered, but her bare shoulders stuck out from the top of the bed sheets. Her face was pressed against Rei’s upper arm, and her chest was softly touching Rei’s side with each rising breath.
Rei felt a flood of affection filling her heart, but at the same time she couldn’t help but let out a soft sigh. “We shouldn’t do this again,” she whispered to herself.
One of Yoshino’s eyes immediately snapped open. “You’re still on that?” she murmured in a sleepy voice. Rei jolted back a little in surprise.
Still, Yoshino sounded groggy enough that Rei wondered if she was talking in her sleep.
“Yes, I’m still ‘on that,’” Rei replied anyway. “I will always be ‘on that.’” She was complaining, but she had still embraced Yoshino just the same hours before, had still kissed her just the same, and not a single milligram of guilt had stifled her the moment they had closed the door.
Lately, guilt hadn’t been a very compelling emotion, anyway.
“Are you going to be this way when we live together, too? Every night, are you going to say, ‘This is wrong, Yoshino!’ while you’re inside of me?”
Rei felt an involuntary shudder run through her while she stared at Yoshino’s smiling face, an innocent face that seemed completely at odds with what she had just said. Rei shook her head slowly. “We’re not going to live together,” she said.
“Every time you say no to me, it makes me want to be with you more. You realize that, don’t you?” Yoshino said, her smile growing wider. “It’s like a challenge.”
“Then how do I get you to lose interest?” Rei asked, smiling back in spite of herself. She brushed away a few of the hairs that had fallen across Yoshino’s cheek.
“That’s easy,” Yoshino replied immediately. “Be how you used to be. Indulge me. Treat me like a fragile little flower that you’re afraid of breaking—then forbid me from doing anything risky, even if it’s with you.” A blush was slowly coming across Yoshino’s face, though Rei could only barely see it in the dim moonlight that filtered through the blinds. “Something happens to you when we get naked, Rei-chan. You show a little resistance at first, but then you let go and it’s like something comes over you. You lose some of your usual gentleness. You pull me into your arms like you mean it. You get a little rough with me, even. I like it.”
Rei felt a matching blush spreading over her own face and she looked away, up towards the window. “That’s not my intention.”
“Don’t you dare apologize,” Yoshino said. Her voice was suddenly very serious.
“I’m not.” Rei paused. She thought about it for a second. “I’m not sorry, to be honest.” And she wasn’t, when she really searched herself. There was no shame; the situation felt weirdly natural. Still, from a practical perspective, she could not simply ignore all of her concerns. “We shouldn’t do this again,” Rei repeated. “It’s not about guilt. It’s about the fact that we should be making space between us, not coming closer together. You admitted this yourself.”
Yoshino looked thoughtful. “This is a different kind of closeness from before, though. I’m not saying physically, either. Rei-chan, you would never have been able to do this with me even a year ago, would you? You’ve changed.”
Rei turned back to look at her, and was surprised to find a twinkle of admiration in Yoshino’s eyes. The smile hadn’t faded, either.
“Then, when you told me about what happened with Sachiko-sama—whether you had fully meant to tell me or not—it changed my opinion of you a little bit, if I’m totally honest.”
“What do you mean?” Rei felt uncomfortable all of a sudden, but she let out a breath and accepted it. She listened.
Yoshino shrugged. “I don’t know. It was one thing getting carried away with me that one night last spring. It could have been a fluke, an indiscretion. But then you told me that you seduced Sachiko-sama of all people. I couldn’t help but wonder if my image of you was totally wrong, if there was more to Rei-chan than I thought, and I just couldn’t see it before. Maybe I hadn’t been able to see who you really were behind that image that I had of you, the same way you couldn’t see the real me behind the meek little cousin that you had grown used to over the years.” She closed her eyes and pushed her face up against Rei’s neck. “And to be honest, I like this version of you better, anyway.”
Rei huffed with amusement. “I thought you said that you were jealous.”
“Oh, I am. Trust me, I am,” Yoshino said, “but underneath that...I don’t know, I think knowing that you’ve been with someone else gave me a tiny bit more respect for you. It takes some guts to conquer a prim and proper ojou-sama like Sachiko-sama, even if she has softened up a bit lately.”
“‘Conquer?’” Rei repeated, then cleared her throat. “That might be a slight exaggeration.” In truth, Sachiko had absolutely been the instigator that night, but Rei wasn’t about to mention something like that to Yoshino.
“You still haven’t told me how on Earth it happened. I’m extremely curious.” There was a silly smile in Yoshino’s voice that Rei could detect without even looking at her face.
Rei shushed her. “I already said that I’m not going into any detail about that. It’s late, anyway. We should go back to sleep.”
“You know...I always had this funny feeling about her. Sometimes she’d give you these looks, especially when you were wearing your gym uniform.”
“Enough,” Rei said, her face burning. “She and I are just friends, in spite of it all.”
Yoshino was quiet for awhile and her breath grew a bit unsteady. “What about us?” she finally asked.
Rei threw an arm over Yoshino. Her hand brushed softly against the smooth skin of the girl’s back. She pulled her in close. She pressed her lips to the top of her head and gave her a light, soundless kiss. “Maybe that part is still changing,” she whispered, “so maybe we can’t know that right now.”
Even after some moments passed, Yoshino didn’t answer. Rei wondered if this meant that she had accepted it, or that she was merely taking longer to consider her retort. Before long, though, Yoshino’s breaths became steady again and her body began twitching slightly with the beginnings of sleep.
Rei looked towards the window again. What little she could see of the moon through the cracks in the blinds was smeared with a cloudy fog—but she knew that soon enough, morning would come, and everything would be a bit clearer in time.