“Don’t run outside barefoot, your feet will just get dirty again.”
You looked up at her mother. A slightly concerned frown lined the woman’s face.
“Are you listening to me, You?”
“Yeah, sure.” You responded, lifting her foot to show her mother the blue flip-flop that covered it, “See? I have slippers on.” She stood up from where she was sitting in the foyer of her house and leaned down to grab the backpack that sat next to the neat line of shoes. “I’ll be back by lunchtime,” She said, and with that she was out the door.
As soon the front gate of her house was securely shut behind her, You kicked her flip flops away, and her feet hit the asphalt barefoot. Shoes were a pain, especially in the early summer mornings, when it was still cool enough for the concrete under her toes to feel warm and not scorching hot.
And, of course, she didn’t really need shoes at the place she was going to anyways.
As usual, the beach was quiet. You dug her feet into the sand, staring out at the ocean that unfolded in front of her. It was probably her favorite thing in the whole world. The smell of sea salt, the feel of the breeze rustling through her hair and skin. There were few things You loved more than the ocean. She closed her eyes, tilting her head back in an effort to enjoy the most of the morning breeze.
You wondered what her father was doing right now.
She opened her eyes.
Summer vacation meant that her father would come home.
As a child, her father would allow You onboard his ship. She had spent hours pretending she was a seafaring captain. Her father would lift her up in her arms, hold her above the helm of the ship so that she could fully see the blue seas that stretched out as far as she could see. He would twirl her around, allow her to shout a few of her favorite captain’s orders, and then set her down on deck where he would take off his captain’s hat and place it on You’s head. It would, of course, fall immediately over her eyes, with only windswept hair and a bright, bright smile visible underneath the rim.
“Honey, you need to stop doing that,” Her mother would say only half-jokingly, “She’s going to end up just like you.”
“Well, what’s wrong with that? She can sail anywhere in the world. She can chase any dream.” He would lean down and adjust the hat on You’s head, “She can conquer any sea if she wanted to.”
Her mother would then roll her eyes, “You’re a ferry captain, not a pirate.” And laughter would ensue.
It was the same routine, over and over again.
Time would pass, however, and You would eventually start school, and her father would get busier. These days, her father was so busy that neither You or her mother were able to see him for weeks, maybe months at a time. There were some stolen weekends, a few haphazard free days, but nothing would last too long before her father would return to sea.
Perhaps it was a Watanabe thing, to love the sea the most of all.
It was the first day of summer vacation of her second year at elementary school, and You was waiting for him to come home.
But it was still a bit too early, and the sea was still deep and blue and empty.
You leaned down and grabbed a handful of sand, watching it stream back to the ground between the gaps of her fingers. It was strange. She had plenty of friends at school, but it was just that: friends at school. She never saw them outside. You couldn’t help but feel a deep, throbbing loneliness within her. It was a loneliness that grew by the minute.
It took a few seconds for her to register that the sand in her hand was getting wet because of her own tears.
Before she could use her free hand to wipe at her damp eyes, a sudden shadow appeared and, the next thing she knew, she saw a flash of orange hair and very, very white teeth.
“It’s raining on your face.”
Stunned and still a bit shocked that someone had just appeared out of nowhere, You stared in silence at the girl who had spoken to her. She was slightly taller than her and had vivid orange hair. There were leaves and twigs caught within it. In fact, the girl looked like a complete mess. There was nothing haphazard about her smile, though. It was bright and pearly and unembarrassed.
“Are you sad about something?” The girl asked, “I’ve never seen you sad before. Oh, that probably sounds weird since you probably don’t know me, but I’ve seen you around at school. I’m in the class next to you.” She inclined her head and grinned, clasping her hands behind her back, “I’m Chika Takami.”
It took another few seconds before You could speak again.
“What’s wrong with your hair?” She blurted out suddenly.
“Huh?” Chika asked, immediately using both of her hands to grab bunches of vivid orange hair. She raked out a few twigs and leaves, tossing them aside. “Oh, I was just running through some bushes earlier.”
“Through some bushes?”
“I was chasing a squirrel.” Chika blinked, as if it was a completely normal thing to do at 7am, “It was really big.” As if that could justify her chase.
You couldn’t help it. She laughed.
“You’re laughing at me,” Chika pouted, putting her hands on her hips, “And here I thought you were sad about something!”
“Sorry,” You said, rubbing at her eyes, which were still a bit red. “I didn’t mean to laugh. I’m Watanabe. You Watanabe.”
“That’s a nice name,” Chika smiled, the pout gone from her expression as if it had never been there in the first place. “Do you want to swim with me, You?”
“I thought you wanted to know if I was sad or not.”
“I did,” Chika admitted, “But then I saw you smile, so you must be feeling better already. Come on, let’s go!” She was already halfway across the sand and nearly to the shore before You could even think of a response.
Chika’s smile was bright. And pearly. And unembarrassed.
It was also frustratingly contagious.
There wasn’t a single day that summer vacation that You didn’t spend with Chika.
They raced each other while swimming in the ocean every single day, and unsurprisingly, You won every single one of them, even when she gave Chika a head-start.
They’d spend hours at the beach digging up bugs with sticks and swatting at them with handmade nets, but both of their mothers banned them from doing so again when Chika got stung by a bee and You had to drag a crying Chika all the way home. (“You-chan, I’m going to die!” “You’re not going to die!” “How do you know?!”)
That didn’t stop them from continuing to catch more bugs as soon as a band-aid was wrapped around Chika’s finger, though.
A week before Chika’s birthday, a stray puppy started following them to the beach. It wouldn’t leave their side the entire day, and by the time it was evening, Chika had already named him Shiitake and made a very serious oath to protect him with her life. “He’s mine,” Chika said, wrapping her arms around the small dog. Her older sisters, who were both in high school, didn’t seem so enthused about the idea of a dog in the house.
You met Kanan Matsuura at Chika’s birthday party. Kanan was tall and older and seemed like she knew how to do everything the right way, which You was somewhat envious of. It seemed almost effortless in the way she convinced Chika’s older sisters and parents about keeping Shiitake. It was hard to forget the smile Chika made when Shiitake burst through the inn’s front doors, wearing a lopsided party hat that said “HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHIKA” on it. “Thank you,” Chika sobbed, pressing her cheek against Shiitake’s so hard that it was almost as if they were trying to combine into a single entity, “I’ll love him forever.”
They’d build sand castles that towered above them, but it suddenly stopped being so fun once Shiitake bulldozed his way through the castle You spent five hours perfecting.
They visited aquariums, faces and hands pressed against the glass of fishtanks until they were told off by staff. Chika would spend an agonizing amount of time at the frog exhibit, and You would have to drag her away, even though it was hard to resist Chika’s begging.
You slept over at Chika’s house more times than she could count. Perhaps she spent even more nights at Chika’s than she did in her own home. Her father had come back, and You was happy, but it was as if the dark shroud of loneliness within her had scattered and disappeared. It was as if sunrays had burst through.
They’d watch movies and anime and play video games together, which Chika was actually very good at. “I had a lot of practice,” Chika grinned, “My sisters are tough opponents.” Sometimes sleep wouldn’t come to them until past midnight, and they would just huddle together at the side of Chika’s bed, whispering not-too-scary ghost stories to each other under the dim light of an old flashlight. You would wake up with her head nestled against Chika’s shoulder. Her best friend’s shoulder.
Kanan came back to help them with their summer homework, which both You and Chika shoved away until it was 3PM on the day before they had to return to school. Kanan was patient and kind, but she knew not to let Chika out of her sight. It was one of the least fun days that You ever had, but it was still alright, because Chika was there, even if they were adding and subtracting numbers for hours at a time.
Chika and You ran together, bare feet against concrete and asphalt and sand and carpet and sea, every single day that summer, and every summer after that.
“Chika-chan, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
They were in their second year of middle school. Chika was hugging the back of her chair, head resting against the top of it. She was looking outside the window of their classroom. They sometimes spent their lunch breaks in the classroom when the weather outside was gloomy.
“Dunno,” She finally replied, “I can’t think of anything.” She looked over at You, who was sitting at the desk behind hers. “You want to be a ship captain like your dad, right?”
“Yeah,” You nodded, “I’ll always love the sea the most.”
“What about me?” Chika pouted, before laughing, shaking her head.
You hesitated for a brief second, her heart rate flaring up suddenly before receding to its normal rate. She swallowed thickly before laughing. “I guess I’ll always love you too, Chika-chan.”
“You’re all sentimental now,” Chika rolled her eyes, “It was a joke.”
You smiled, “I know.”
After a brief pause, Chika playfully shoved You’s arm. “But...me too.”
“I guess I’ll always love you too, You-chan.”
A pause. You was becoming increasingly aware of the warmth tingling at the back of her neck, at the tips of her ears, in the depths of her tummy.
“Ahhh, I said it!” Chika laughed, throwing her head back and covering her face with her hands. She giggled, “It sounds so weird!”
“It does?” You asked, somewhat nervously.
“Yeah, cause...we’re friends, you know.” Chika said, “We’ve been friends for so long, it sounds strange saying cheesy stuff like that, doesn’t it?” She looked at You, “But still, I mean it.”
“I mean it too.” You replied. She looked at Chika, studied her face, watched the way her lips always seemed to be curved upwards into a constant tiny smile.
You reached into her bag, searching for the mikan she brought for lunch, but she brought out a fistful of orange peels instead.
“Did you eat my mikan?” You asked, glaring at Chika, and her best friend stuck out her tongue in apology. “I take back my love,” You huffed, “You can’t have it.”
“Whaaaat? I can’t have any of it? Not even, like... a tiny bit of it?”
“Not even a tiny bit of it.”
“What am I without You-chan’s love?” Chika called out dramatically, standing up and raising her arm out to the sky before collapsing back into her chair into another fit of laughs.
You threw her goggles to the floor. The clattering echoed in the locker room. She had been good, but not good enough. The national competition for middle school swimming was out of sight forever. You crumpled to the floor, slumping against her locker. She had been too slow. She was never too slow, but she had been too slow today, when it mattered the most.
You looked up at the door of the locker room. Chika was staring at her, mouth open, eyes sad.
You ran her arm across her face, wiping away tears and leftover pool water. “Don’t look at me.” She said, before burying her face in her arms, hiccuping as she sobbed.
“You tried your best…” Chika knelt down beside her, wrapping her arms around her and pulling her close. “You tried your best, and you were really good, there’s always high sch--”
“My best wasn’t enough!”
You had never yelled like this before. Chika stumbled back, eyes wide open.
You immediately felt regret pulsing within her. She hadn’t meant to yell at her, she hadn’t meant to scare her. The look of fear and shock on Chika’s face was almost too terrible to bear, but You couldn’t stop. She was angry and frustrated and even though she didn’t want to make Chika sad, she couldn’t stop herself.
“Stop telling me I did my best! As if doing my best can do anything! It’s no use if my best isn’t the best!” Her face was hot with tears, her voice was shaky with sobs. “If you don’t understand, then maybe you should just leave me alone.”
“But…” Chika began, “You-chan, I was just…”
“I don’t care!” You seethed, “I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. It must be great doing nothing with your life, Chika. It must be great to have nothing you’re passionate about. It must be great to go home every single day without having a bunch of grown-ups breathing down your neck about how you have to be the best, how it’d help the school so much if you won, how it should be a piece of cake for me to make it to nationals. It must be great to have nothing you can win or lose at.”
Stop, stop, stop. Don’t yell at her, don’t do this. Stop.
“I tried my best and I got nowhere and now all of my hard work has gone to shit, and now all of those people who wanted me to win will hate me. I don’t care about doing my best right now. I don’t care about anything. Leave me alone, Chika. Just go away.”
You buried her face into her arms again, from both anger and shame. Shame and regret and shock and disgust.
She could hear Chika cry. She could Chika’s chest heaving with sobs, she could hear Chika hiccuping. But she couldn’t hear Chika leave, because Chika wasn’t going to leave even if You yelled at her to go away, because that wasn’t Chika. Chika wouldn’t leave You Watanabe no matter what.
You felt trembling arms around her, trying to pull her in, trying to hold her close.
“Chika, I told you to--” You began, but Chika interrupted her.
“I know, You-chan.” She whispered, her voice almost incomprehensible through her crying, “I know. But I can’t. You know that, right? You know I can’t leave you.”
There was a long pause. You was in Chika’s arms, her face pressed against her torso.
“Why aren’t you mad at me?” You mumbled into Chika’s tear-soaked shirt, “Why don’t you hate me?”
Chika gave a small, hiccuping laugh. “I’m mad,” She admitted, “I’m so mad, You-chan. I want to punch you.”
“I deserve it.”
“You do. You deserve a hundred of Chikacchi’s monster punches.”
“A thousand of them.”
“...I’m sorry, Chika-chan. I shouldn’t have said those things.”
“It’s okay,” Chika finally replied, “It’s okay.”
At the beginning of their first year of high school, they visit Tokyo. It’s bright, colorful, and shiny, but it doesn’t take long for Chika to be entranced by a glittering TV screen.
In the Tokyo hotel that night, Chika can’t stop rattling off to You about school idols. It’s the first time You sees her eyes so bright. A warmth settles into her stomach.
It’s a familiar warmth, one that comes and goes with its intensity, but always seems to be there in some capacity. It is the strongest when Chika smiles, when Chika shines, when You lies in bed in the middle of the night and, for some weird reason, thinks about the scent of Chika’s hair and the smell of Chika’s soap.
It’s a warmth that appears when Chika makes a stupid pun and You has to laugh or Chika will punch her shoulder, it’s a warmth that appears when Chika calls her in the middle of the night because she just accidentally ate her sister’s pudding that was in the fridge and that if she happened to get murdered by Mito-nee the next day, You would get full ownership over Shiitake and all the yen currently in her piggy bank.
It’s a warmth that flares when Chika gets close to her, when Chika wraps her arm around her shoulder or loops her arm around her elbow. It’s a warmth that spikes when Chika leans dangerously close to You, asking her if if it’s true that if you eat too much mikan, your hair actually starts to smell like it. Is it true? You doesn’t know. All she can smell is flowers. All she can see is red eyes. All she can feel is a tingling sensation that seems to spread throughout her entire body.
It’s a warmth that scares her when she catches herself thinking, Chika is so beautiful.
“I think I finally found it,” Chika said, leaning forward and grabbing You’s hands with her own, “I found something I can be passionate about!”
You flushed suddenly, memories of her argument with Chika in the locker room suddenly flooding back.
“School idols, You-chan! I can’t believe I never heard about them! Look, I already Googled a bunch of stuff about µ’s!” She shoved her phone in You’s face. You just saw a bunch of photos of pretty girls around their age in fluffy, cute costumes.
“Bright!” Chika finished for her, “They sparkle so much! It’s amazing. You need to watch their performances. I’ll send you an Youtube playlist.” She tapped furiously on her phone.
“You want to become one?” You asked.
Chika paused, hesitating suddenly. “Is that...weird?” She asked, tugging at a strand of her hair, “They sparkle so much, but I don’t know if I can…”
“No, no, it’s not weird!” You said quickly, holding up her hands defensively, “You sparkle a lot already.”
“Not like them,” Chika shook her head, “I have to shine like them. I have to be cute, you know? Or...cool.”
“You are cute,” You said, “And cool.”
Chika pouted, “You’re just saying that because you’re my best friend.”
“No, I’m saying that because it’s the truth,” You frowned, “If you want to do it, you should do it. If you set your mind to it, I know you can do anything.”
Chika smiles, “Thanks, You-chan.”
“Nothing to be thankful over,” You mumbled sheepishly, “Like I said, it’s the truth.”
Chika leans over suddenly, wrapping her arms around You’s head and pulling her close. “Where would I be without you?” She asked, laughing a bit, and You felt that tingling sensation again.
“I should be the one asking that question,” You said, “Where would I be without you there to lead the way?”
“You like Chika, don’t you?”
You froze, nearly dropping the diving tank she was lifting. She looked over at Kanan, whose expression was weirdly placid and untelling.
“Of course I like Chika,” You finally replied, setting down the diving tank, “She isn’t a bad person.”
“You know what I meant,” Kanan said.
“I thought I came here to help you out, not for an interrogation session.” You grumbled, and Kanan laughed.
“Well, you haven’t denied it yet, so I’m assuming I hit it right on the nose.” Kanan walked over to her and lightly rapped her knuckles against You’s head, “For someone with so much forward motion, I’m surprised you haven’t done anything about it yet.”
“What do you want me to do?” You asked, rubbing her head, “Confess?”
“Well, that’s usually how relationships begin, right?” Kanan asked, tilting her head to the side.
“What do you know about relationships?”
“Nothing at all.”
“I’m the one interrogating you, okay?” Kanan raised her eyebrow.
You sighed, “Relationships have to be a mutual thing.”
“Who says it can’t be mutual? Chika could like you.”
“Chika would be crazy to like me.” You said, “After all, she has Riko now.”
“Riko? The girl who went diving with you guys last week?”
“Yeah.” You paused, “She’s really pretty, and they’ve been hanging out together a lot. They sort of have this...connection, you know.” She wrung her hands, “This weird...poetic, musical connection. Like they’re two halves of a whole.”
Kanan frowned, “Just because they seem so compatible doesn’t mean that Chika likes her.”
“But who wouldn’t like Riko?” You asked, “She’s pretty, and she’s from Tokyo, and she knows how to play the piano. And she knows how to talk to Chika about her feelings, even though they just met.” She continued to twiddle her thumbs, “I don’t know. They seem like soulmates.”
“What do you know about soulmates?” Kanan said, “Life doesn’t have to be some dramatic movie, You. Your connection with Chika could be just as strong. You know her better than anyone else.”
“Yeah, I do,” You said, “That’s why I know that she doesn’t like me. That she can’t like me.” She glanced over at the horizon, where the sky was becoming orange with the oncoming sunset. The color of Chika’s hair.
“I’m going to go, it’s getting late.” She said, “Thanks for inviting me over, Kanan.”
You had never seen Chika like this before.
A Chika who was holding herself back, a Chika who wanted to cry but wouldn’t, who couldn’t, for the sake of others. You laid in bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering what she could possibly do to help. What she could say. It was always Chika who said the right things to her, who managed to unravel her. Now Chika was the one who needed help, who desperately needed to be told that it was okay to be her, that it was okay to be Chika Takami, that it was okay to be sad, and You didn’t know what to do.
Sleep didn’t last long. Riko’s phone call jolted her awake soon after.
“Riko-chan? What is it? It’s like, 5am or something.” You yawned into the receiver.
“It’s Chika! She disappeared somewhere! I think she went to the beach, but I can’t find her anywhere. Can you call the others? Can you get over here immediately?”
You had never felt more afraid. Her heart pounded as she raced out of the house, barefoot and with her jacket barely on.
But despite this fear, despite the panic coursing within her, she knew it was going to be okay. Because Riko was the one there, because Chika would come back if Riko was the one to outstretch her hand towards her.
The training camp at Chika’s inn was successful. The two nights they had been there, You had woken up in the middle of the night to see both Chika and Riko’s futons warm, but empty. An aching feeling had settled in her heart, one that seemed to outdo the warmth she felt when she thought about Chika.
She had half a mind to go outside and look for them, but in the end, You stayed where she was. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to see them. If she was ready to see them.
You came home to her father sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea out of a mug.
“Dad!” You’s face lit up immediately, and she ran into her father’s outstretched arms.
“Hey captain,” He smiled and, just as he used to do, removed his captain’s hat and placed it atop of You’s head. It was still too big, but it didn’t fall over her eyes this time.
“I heard from your mother that you and Chika have been school idols recently. How’s that going?”
“It’s been...fun,” You replied, “We have nine members now, and they’re all great. I’ll bring them over someday!”
“Sounds like a plan,” He said, saluting. You saluted back.
“Dad, your boat is at the dock, right?” She asked, “Do you think I can take it for a spin tomorrow?”
He frowned, already mouthing a refusal, but You continued, “I promise I’ll take care of it! And I won’t go far! You know I can do it, I showed you I can do it! Please?”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on your dad’s boat, You-chan!” Chika grinned, spinning around on deck as You took her place at the helm.
“Don’t jump around too much or you’ll fall right off,” You said, but it was nice to see Chika so happy. Now that she thought about it, they had both been so busy as school idols that it’s been a long time since it was just her and Chika. Even though You loved being with the other members, it was nice and almost nostalgic to spend time with just her best friend.
It took a bit, but they were soon at sea. Just as she promised, You never left the nearby dock area, so she simply rocked the boat in a slow circular path. The weather was nice that day, and the salty breeze felt cool and pleasant against her skin. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, taking in the ocean.
“You know, You-chan, you look the coolest like that.”
You flushed immediately, looking over at Chika, “What do you mean?”
“You know...with the captain’s hat and everything. And how determined you look when you’re focused on steering.” Chika commented, “It looks cool.”
“It isn’t the first time you’ve seen me like this,” You muttered, turning her head to the side.
“Well, I didn’t always think like that,” Chika said bluntly, “But now I do. I think you look the best like this, You. When you’re at sea. You look like you can do anything.”
There it was again. That warmth.
That dull pain in her heart.
She adjusted the hat, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “I feel like I can go anywhere when I’m the captain. I feel like the entire sea is at my disposal.” She said, “But I can’t do everything.”
“Yes you can,” Chika said, “You’re really nice. People love you. And you’re a good swimmer, too. You try really hard at everything, and…” She trailed off, “You’re always there for me, even when I’m not for you.”
“That isn’t true. You’re always there for me. I’m the one…”
“You think I haven’t noticed?”
It was as if the world suddenly became silent. If a pin dropped at the other side of the world, You was sure she could have heard it.
“Noticed what?” She finally asked, unable to look at Chika’s face.
“My sisters always tell me ‘You-chan knows you the best of all!’ But it works the other way around too. I know you better than anyone else. I know you better than anything.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“It took me awhile, you know. Because I was so sad, and so upset at myself. I was so disappointed in myself for letting everyone down that it took me awhile to realize why you looked at me that way. Why you looked at Riko that way. Why you looked at us that way.”
“Chika, let’s go home.” You placed her hands on the helm, ready to turn, but she suddenly felt a warm hand wrap around her own. “Chika, please don’t,” She whispered. Her voice was so quiet that she wasn’t even sure if she said them out loud.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
She’s crying. Damn it, she’s crying. I always do that to her, I always make her cry, I always…
“Why didn’t you tell me you were hurt? Why didn’t you tell me you were sad? You always...you always tell me everything. ‘Full speed ahead’. That’s you, You-chan. So why didn’t you tell me you weren’t happy? Did you think I wouldn’t care? That I wouldn’t find out eventually? That because Riko is there, that I wouldn’t want you as my best friend anymore?”
You was silent. She didn’t know what to say. There was nothing she could say.
“I want you to tell me everything, You-chan. I want to be with you forever. You know I can’t leave you, I can’t ever leave you.”
You felt hot. She felt sick. Her stomach was churning, her heart was pounding. Chika’s crying echoed in her ears.
You looked up. She took a step forward, her teary vision a blur of Chika’s orange hair, Chika’s red eyes. The boat lurched slightly.
She kissed Chika sloppily, clumsily. She nearly missed, but Chika’s arms had gone up to steady her. Their lips are pressed against each other for a solid half a second before You finally pulled away.
“Oh god, Chika-chan, I’m sorry, that was...that was…” There was nowhere to run. If You really wanted to do so, she could dive off the boat and become a mermaid and never come back. It was tempting.
“Don’t you dare say that was an accident,” Chika said, “I’ll give you a Chikacchi monster punch if you do.”
“What?” You asked, too stunned to react otherwise.
Chika stepped forward and wrapped her arms around You’s neck. She was still teary-eyed, but she was smiling, and all You could see were white, pearly teeth. A smile of relief.
“Don’t tell me you liked that,” You whispered, almost scared to hear the response.
“Of course I liked it! I’m not dumb! Of course I like you, You-chan!”
Suddenly, the world made noise again. You could hear the seagulls cry, the gentle lull and crash of the waves beneath them, the distant noise of the people at the dock.
And then You began to cry.
“This entire time,” She hiccuped, wiping at her face with her sleeves, “This entire time I thought you didn’t like me, that you couldn’t like me, that it was impossible for someone as great and beautiful and shining like you could ever like me. Because you’re my best friend and I thought that I could never be good enough, that I could try my best at everything else in the world but no matter what I do I wouldn’t be able to be anything more to you. I can’t even comfort you when you cry, I can’t even fix anything when you’re sad, I can’t do any of those things, I wasn’t good enough at any of those things, that no matter how long I knew you or how hard I tried, I can’t be your other half--”
“I don’t need you to be my other half!” Chika interrupted, “I just need you to be You-chan.” She un-looped her arms from around You’s neck, and pinched her cheeks with both hands, “The same You-chan I met all those years ago. That You-chan is good enough, that You-chan will always be the best. I like it the best when you’re honest with me.”
You hiccuped. They stood there in silence for a few moments as You regained her breath, as the tears began to dry from her face.
“Let’s go home, captain.” Chika said softly. You leaned her head against her shoulder, looking downwards so that her smile was hidden from Chika.
"Okay," She finally replied. You lifted her head a bit, looking over Chika's shoulder at the sea that expanded beyond them. A clear, nearly white sky. Blue water that shone. Chika's windswept orange hair. Chika's red eyes, still a bit wet from tears. Chika's frustratingly contagious smile.
Yes, You liked this view of the ocean the best.