“I mean, I don’t really know anything about this kind of stuff,” Utena said, holding the bottle up to the lamp so that she could look through it, because that seemed like something you were supposed to do with alcohol. The glass of the bottle cast a little green shadow on her faded blue pajama shirt. The alcohol was either clear, or green, so that was a piece of information.
“May I say something, Utena-sama?” Anthy said, punctuated with a clink as she placed mismatched coffee mugs on the bedside table. There was Utena’s old, chipped baby-blue one that she’d brought from home to the dorm, and then from the dorm to the chairman’s residence; next to it, one of the many immaculate white and gold-trimmed mugs from the set in Akio’s kitchen. Neither tumblers nor wine glasses.
It was just barely dark out. Anthy was pausing to more tightly button up the collar of her nightgown, her hair still up and her glasses still on (because it was implied they would be staying up a while longer).
“Oh. Sure. Of course.”
“I don’t think Wakaba-san does either.”
Utena laughed. Anthy’s moments of bluntness were few and far between.
Wakaba had been oddly cagey about where she got it. (Maybe she thought they’d rat on her to Akio, or something.) She’d simply left it with Utena so her roommate wouldn’t find it--small dorm rooms and all--saying she’d come back to drink it with them the next day.
Now Wakaba was at home with the flu, and after a visit earlier in the day she’d insisted they have it without her. She told them to “destroy the evidence”. Anthy, of all people, had accepted on her behalf. Utena hoped that she hadn’t just given Anthy the impression that was what she wanted; but reading things into Anthy’s behavior was too easy and often wrong. Like divining the future from tea leaves.
Utena intended to at least save Wakaba a glass.
“Well, I don’t know what vermouth is,” Utena unscrewed the cap, “but it smells good. I’ve smelled alcohol before and it smelled all, I don’t know, chemical-ish. Not really appetizing. But I can probably drink this?”
It smelled like tree bark and orange peel. It was just sweet enough that a teenager like her could stomach it, but bitter and sharp enough to make one feel grown-up.
Distinctly unlike roses. It seemed to cut through the air.
“It’s very light,” Anthy said.
“I’m probably a lightweight,” Utena chuckled, a bit awkwardly.
Anthy clicked her tongue.
“It’s a kind of wine with brandy and aromatics and such, Utena-sama. This one is a white wine, I believe. It’s normally used as a base for cocktails, though I believe in some countries they drink it after meals as a sort of digestive.”
There was a hint of playful mockery to her voice as she recited this information.
Utena thought it was strange enough already that Anthy, seemingly, wanted to drink with her. If she was interpreting her correctly. Trying to figure out what Anthy actually wanted at any given time was endlessly, heartbreakingly frustrating.
“Not very hardcore--” Utena stopped, started, “how do you know that much about wine, Himemiya?”
“Oh, you know,” she said.
When Anthy decided not to tell her something, it was utterly impossible to get anything out of her. And Utena didn’t want to make Anthy do anything, if she could help it.
Anthy, however, took the bottle from Utena’s hands. She began deferentially pouring some into the mugs. Utena decided to let her, because she was terribly unsure about portioning.
Utena watched Anthy’s hands as she positioned the cups just so before pouring. Everything she did had a kind of ceremony to it. A performance.
Utena sat up a little straighter, frowning.
“By the way, do you...d’you think Akio-san will be upset if he comes back and sees this?” she asked, sheepish.
Anthy stopped after she finished pouring the first cup, and looked out the bedroom window behind Utena. And she kept looking. Her eyes very nearly blank, in that way they almost always were, with something boiling underneath.
Utena was about to prompt her to speak right as Anthy responded.
“Akio gives me wine sometimes,” she said.
Anthy said this in a way that made Utena feel terribly out of her depth.
She handed Utena the white and gold mug, which was filled halfway with alcohol. Utena took it and sat back down on her bed, sinking into the mattress, trying to relax. The bitter, herbal smell singed Utena’s nostrils in a not unpleasant way.
“Wow, that’s so, uh, sophisticated. Parents give their kids wine in other countries, huh?” Utena said, swirling the drink around in her mug. She hadn’t tasted any of it yet, hesitating at the boundary of a transgression. Not that Akio was Anthy’s father, or anything, but Utena couldn’t help but forget that they were just siblings sometimes.
“Yes,” Anthy said, vaguely.
Anthy took a seat on Utena’s bed next to her. With her free hand, she smoothed out her nightgown.
Another odd thing.
The beds were designed very specifically to have a boundary that simply was. One that they only ever crossed with exactly one hand each, at night, in the dark. Such a thing felt like another transgression in and of itself. Anthy was very close, Utena noted. She cleared her throat.
“I think...I think my dad let me taste his sake once. When I was really little. I didn’t like it. I think he was, like, making fun of me.”
Utena talking about her parents was on par, or perhaps even more rare, than Anthy letting a snide comment slip through. One strange thing begets another.
“You didn’t like it? How so?” Anthy asked, tilting her head curiously.
“Ha, I dunno. I was so little, you shouldn’t feed kids bitter things like that. I think I spat it out,” Utena sighed, “and my mom was kind of scolding me. Like, ‘oh, that was so expensive, why did you do that?’ at my dad, and stuff.”
Anthy’s eyes darted over Utena’s face. She took a long, confident drink from the blue mug.
“Did they fight often?”
Utena kept bringing the mug to her mouth, almost drinking from it, lowering it, and then raising it again.
“Himemiya, I’m not even drunk yet,” Utena laughed.
Utena took the first sip. It went down more smoothly than she expected, but it still burned her mouth and throat a little. The aftertaste of the orange peel and the licorice root and the herbs remained on her tongue as the bitterness of the drink receded. She still found herself coughing from the sting.
“How is it?” Anthy asked.
“It’s good, I think? I’ll have to have more to see--oh, but I don’t wanna overdo it or anything, though.”
“That’s wise, Utena-sama,” Anthy said, already on her third sip (though Utena had not been actively counting, and it may have been more).
There was an awkward silence. Utena thought that she should’ve put on some music, or something. She took a few cautious sips before gulping the rest of the alcohol down.
Perhaps she wasn’t a lightweight after all, since it wasn’t really hitting her. It burned like hell, though.
“Aaaugh,” Utena coughed, “how do people do shots? That sucks.”
“You don’t do shots of vermouth,” Anthy said, topping off her own glass before handing the bottle to Utena. “Do you want another one, Utena-sama?”
“Geez, Anthy, you’re really putting these away.”
Moderation aside, Utena felt a little embarrassed by how slowly she was drinking compared to Anthy, who didn’t even seem to be that affected by it. Thus she felt compelled to get another glass.
Utena still wasn’t feeling it, but the alcohol tasted better with each subsequent drink. Her face felt hot, but that might have been from Anthy’s closeness, or something like that.
“Getting drunk, at our age…” Utena said, “that’s some real delinquent behavior, y’know, Himemiya. You’re a bad influence on me.”
“If you say so,” Anthy hummed. Something about this was uproariously funny, and Utena started giggling.
Maybe Utena was starting to feel it, somewhat.
She bumped shoulders with Anthy, in a playful gesture of camaraderie; but Anthy’s lack of enthusiasm (and poor upper body strength) led to Utena just leaning heavily against her.
Alright, she was feeling it.
Her limbs were heavy, and that was why she did not move. Maybe that’s why Anthy didn’t move away, either.
“Utena-sama, are you drunk?” Anthy asked.
“I thinkkk so,” Utena said, brow furrowed in mock-thoughtfulness.
Anthy started to fall over, and Utena pulled herself back.
“Oh, whoops--sorry, Himemiya. I’m kinda heavy.”
Anthy straightened up, pushed her glasses back up her nose, and smiled blankly.
“Thank you, Utena-sama.”
Both of them felt unsteady.
They just sort of fell towards each other. It was entirely unclear who had initiated; but the kiss was soft and warm and clumsy. The earthy, sharp taste of the alcohol was still on both of their lips. A reminder.
After they parted, Utena touched her forehead to Anthy’s. She went a little too fast and knocked their heads together. but Anthy didn’t pull away.
“I, uh, uhm,” Utena said, and she did not finish her thought.
Anthy wasn’t thinking anything. Or, she was thinking about too many things. Both of them shut their eyes.
Utena’s eyes shot open and pulled back first, laughing awkwardly.
“Woww, okaaay. Sorry. Sorry, Himemiya.”
“Utena-sama,” Anthy said, “you don’t have to be sorry.”
Anthy’s I’m the rose bride went unspoken, but perhaps implied.
Utena was trying so hard not to read anything into her, but she was always so inscrutable that she couldn’t help herself.
Still, she felt bold. Foolishly bold.
Utena flopped over (in a very undignified way) onto Anthy, her head on her lap, and they both laughed; although Utena was much louder, and significantly less reserved. A mop of messy pink hair splayed over Anthy’s skirt, and Utena grinned up at her.
Utena could not have known what went through Anthy’s mind at that moment.
“Heyyy,” Utena said.
“Hello,” Anthy said.
Utena then felt Anthy’s hands pressed against her cheeks, and it made her even more giddy than she already was, and nervous; and she still couldn’t stop giggling like an idiot. Her face was warm, and practically burning where Anthy’s palms touched her.
“You have a soft face,” Anthy observed, at an almost normal volume.
“Hmmm. I don’t really want that. S’not tough, or cool, you know. To have a baby face.”
Anthy pinched Utena’s cheek.
Utena yelped in surprise.
“Himemiyaaa... no ,” Utena protested, weakly. This was all so funny and strange that it was hard to be genuinely upset.
“That’s the thing,” Anthy said, “you’re like a baby. you don’t know anything .” She laughed and pulled on Utena’s cheek a little before finally releasing it, leaving distinct pink marks where her fingers had been.
Anthy kept snickering, as if calling Utena a baby was the funniest joke anyone had ever made.
Utena realized, in a singular moment of clarity, that Anthy was just as intoxicated as she was. If not more. It was so hard to tell in the dark, but when she really looked she saw that Anthy’s face was a deep red.
The moment did not last because both of these things, unfortunately, made her laugh again.
“You’re sooo drunk, Himemiya, oh my gosh .”
Anthy finished off what was left in her glass before returning her hand to Utena’s face.
“Whats’that about me not knowing anything? I have better grades than you,” Utena said.
“Hm.” Anthy poked Utena’s cheek, to emphasize again that her face was soft, “I s’ppose that’s a defense.”
“I’m good at sports too. And dueling, I think.”
“I suppose you are,” Anthy said, tenderly brushing pink locks off of her face; and then stroking her hair, looking down at her with some kind of sad inability to express whatever she was thinking.
Utena’s face was hot; from the alcohol, from the physical contact. It was a restless peace.
“I like you, Himemiya,” Utena sighed.
“I know,” Anthy said.
She said it so casually, as if Utena had just told her something wildly obvious. Utena hadn’t thought through the statement enough to expect any particular response, but this was not it.
“Do you really? Like how I mean it.”
Anthy’s hands slipped back into position on either side of Utena’s face, one thumb stroking her cheek in the exact spot where she’d pinched it earlier.
She pushed Utena’s cheeks together, scrunching up her face. Not quite as harsh as the pinching, but Utena still yelped in protest.
“That’s...that was what I meant. When I said that you don’t know anything.” She was enunciating all her words too much, as if to keep them from slurring.
Utena felt out of her depth again. She felt especially foolish for confessing such a thing to a girl she knew she didn’t understand at all. Maybe that was something that kept her coming back to Anthy, despite herself; that this girl seemed like a secret to be let in on, a puzzle to be solved.
But that came with its own risks, too.
She started to get tearful. (She wanted nothing less than to be a crying drunk, but it was out of her hands.)
“I try not to say anything, or anything,” Utena whispered, “‘cause you’re just gonna think it’s what I want, and you’re the rose bride, so you have to do what I want. I couldn’t stand it. So I just don’t.”
Anthy froze up.
“Please don’t do this,” Utena mumbled, starting to cry a little, “if all this is because you thought I’d want it, can you stop? I just don’t--I just couldn’t.”
Anthy didn’t move, but she didn’t move her hands away either.
Then, gently and carefully, she took Utena’s head off her lap and let her back onto the mattress. Utena felt a lot of things about this. All of them wildly at odds with each other.
Anthy stood up, walking back over to the bedside table, pouring the last of the alcohol into Utena’s old blue mug. Utena forgot that she’d meant to save some.
There was a darker quality to Anthy’s voice sometimes. Her pitch would drop low, and hoarse, like her usual way of speaking exhausted her.
“I don’t really like wine,” Anthy said, quietly, “I don’t like drinking. This is...alright, though.”
Utena squinted at her.
“But it was...Akio lets you have wine if you ask, right?” Utena asked, her head spinning, barely noticing the tears streaming down her face.
Anthy drank it in one long sip, in the exact same manner as she always finished her cup of tea.
“I don’t...ask him for it. He gives it to me.”
She set the mug onto the table, and the clink resonated loudly in the silence.
Anthy let out a beleaguered sigh, taking off her glasses and setting them down. Utena watched as she plucked each pin from her hair in a methodical circle. She always forgot just how long Anthy’s hair really was; how dark curls and loose ringlets poured down her whole back and over her shoulders.
Anthy made eye contact with Utena, then, and they beheld each other. Anthy’s face was flushed from the alcohol, still, and Utena was crying and yet barely noticing her own tears.
Anthy walked back towards Utena’s bed, not quite steady on her feet, carefully lowering herself down on the opposite side.
Anthy coughed. Alcohol always irritated her throat.
“He’s not coming back t’night, so I thought--” she said, staring out the window at the school and the town and all the stars above it, “I don’t really know what I was thinking, really. I...I don’t know what I’m thinking, quite a lot, lately.”
She felt Utena tugging gently on her nightgown. Anthy turned around to face her.
Utena was laying supine on the bed, teary-eyed, looking at Anthy with desperate affection. She spoke again, her words so slurred with drunkenness and tiredness and tears that Anthy had trouble making it out.
“When I s-said y’could come to me with anything,” Utena gripped the sheets, “I meant it, yknow? I want to...I want to--”
Anthy put her hand over Utena’s mouth. She went quiet.
“Maybe. At some point.”
Utena had reached the point where she felt she could no longer speak coherently. But she was still awake enough to get it, somewhat, at least.
Anthy laid down next to her, then. She pressed herself against Utena’s side, draped her arm over her belly, and laid her head on her chest, tucked right beneath Utena’s chin. She found the slow, consistent beating of Utena’s heart calming; she was soothed by the warmth of her, and Utena’s arm coming up to wrap around her body, and the way she pulled Anthy close and breathed out softly.
He wasn’t here, and he couldn’t reach her now. She could, for this very brief moment, believe in this, and let go of everything else, and there would be no immediate consequences.
“I like you,” Utena said, “I mean it. Really.”
“Yes,” Anthy said, though she’d meant to say me too , or something like that.