As someone who grew up in boarding schools, student housing was no surprise to Utena, though the apartment assigned by the administrators was not what she expected.
The college was too small for on-campus placements, and so Utena followed her moving instructions to the small, narrow building close to the river, spaced between several other tiny narrow buildings of much the same shape.
“Well, I've had worse,” she reasoned to the box in her arms. It wasn't much for conversation, but she didn't have a lot of options at that time. The university hadn’t sent her any information about her roommate. This was fine. Utena was used to rooming alone. She followed the directions up a perilous stairway to the second floor.
The apartment thrust backwards into a jumble of rooms with lots of corners. Utena struggled navigating through the narrow main passage. She stumbled out into the common area, surprised to discover the walls hadn't pressed her into a thin noodle of a person – but at least the ceilings were high and the windows looked out on the little, square garden at the center of the complex. Utena stuck her head out to have a look.
There wasn't much to see. The garden was overgrown, lost in a tangle of branches and high weeds. Ivy clung to a dirt-streaked greenhouse. Still, something stirred through the murky glass, a shadow which passed out into the clinging trees. Utena bent forward over the windowsill in an attempt to make it out, to call out a hello – but a door opened. The sound came from behind her. She knocked her head scrambling back into the apartment.
“Hiiii,” she called, wheeling her bag off to the side. “New roommate, Tenjou Utena, reporting in!”
The narrow hallway produced a young lady in a pink travel dress.
She toed her way in cautiously, and stopped in surprise as the walls fell away. She found herself in the common area, facing Utena across the room.
She had a shock of black hair. It curled over her shoulders down to her hips, mussed from the journey and utterly free.
“Ah,” she said, holding her hat against her head as she craned back to have a look. She turned in a half circle in one direction, and then the other, and, after a moment, gave a very soft, forgiving sigh. “Well! The ceilings are high at least, but one wonders how it was furnished. You could not bring a chair in here, to say nothing of a bed, or a couch, or a rhinoceros.”
“You have a rhinoceros?” asked Utena.
Her new roommate's eyes met hers across the hardwood floors.
“No,” she admitted, with a strange, aching smile. She leaned her bag against the wall. “But if I did, it would be very tricky for me, wouldn't it? Tenjou Utena, you said?”
“Yes,” said Utena, automatically.
“Roommate reporting, you said?”
Utena's cheeks flushed, struck by strange self-consciousness. She didn't know what she'd expected, but she hadn't expected this. “Something like that.”
“Good,” said the young lady, with great purpose, “then it would seem that I have finally found you.”
She held out her hands. Utena took them, unsure of when she had crossed the room to meet her, only that it had felt like less than an instant, and her breath stuck in her throat.
“I guess,” she managed, swallowing. The girl's hands were very warm, and her grip was strong. “I guess you really have.”
They stood like that for a moment, holding hands and smiling. The room blurred.
“Himemiya Anthy,” said her roommate, quietly.
“Right!” Utena jolted back to reality. “Right, right, right. Sorry. Heck are my manners? You need any help with your bag? Those stairs are murderous. Have you come a long way?”
The girl tilted her head to one side, consideringly. “I have.”
“You need help bringing anything up those stairs?”
“No.” Himemiya reached up. Her hand hovered over Utena's cheek. She took it away a moment later. Utena found herself leaned to one side, confused at the sudden lack of warmth. Himemiya looked up in mild concern. “I'm sorry. Are you all right?”
“Huh?” Utena blinked. She blinked again. The world swam, as though she'd been plunged suddenly into a deep, deep lake.
Himemiya held out a handkerchief. Utena's hand flew to her own cheek. Her fingers came away wet.
“Oh,” said Utena, roughly. She took a breath. “I'm sorry. I don't know why I–”
She pressed her face into Himemiya's shoulder. The handkerchief fell to the floor, forgotten. Himemiya pressed her now empty hands between Utena's shoulders. The warmth made Utena gasp.
“Here,” whispered Himemiya, palm circling, just slightly, as though she could feel the scar tissue through her clothes.
“Sorry.” Utena gulped on the words, without dignity. They tasted all wrong. She laughed, shakily. “I'm doing a lot of apologizing.”
“You don't have to,” said Himemiya, and if she was having any such problems it was hard to tell from her voice: it was serene and level, as though she could think of no greater peace than the one she found at that exact moment, with a crazy new roommate sobbing into her nice travel clothes. “Why don't we say that we are two people who have not met in some time? It is a perfectly normal reaction, when it's something like that.”
“Yeah,” mumbled Utena, holding her tighter. “I guess you're right.”
The narrow halls weren't the only drawback of the apartment.
Someone on campus admin really mixed up, because the place only had one bedroom.
“I'll take the couch,” said Utena, the first night, “it's only right.”
“How so?” Himemiya peered at her. She'd been in the process of setting pictures on the side table.
“You've been good to me, even with me being all weird,” Utena rubbed the back of her head. She'd stopped crying hours ago, but her eyes still itched. She distracted herself by shoving the coffee table from one side of the room to the other. She couldn't quite figure out how it should go. “I'm not putting you out, and I don't mind sleeping on the floor, or something like that.”
Himemiya paused and watched her for a long time.
“How gentlemanly,” she murmured. Utena wasn't sure why that made her blush so bad. Himemiya really had one of those voices. “But surely, the bed isn't that small?”
Utena nearly dropped the table on her foot. Something banged in her head, like the clanging of a bell. “What?”
“We're both girls, aren't we?” continued Himemiya, blithely. Utena scrambled to agree. Yes. They were very much both girls, why should that be a thing, it wasn't a thing – but then Himemiya seemed to change her mind. She set the pictures down and crossed the room. She put picked up the other end of the table, and with an almost effortless role of her shoulders, shoved it into the perfect spot in the room.
She looked up through her hair.
“Ah, but I do kick,” she admitted, and somehow despite the calmness of her features Utena got a distinct impression that she was laughing. “Still, neither of us should suffer on the other's account, but if you're more comfortable that way, I understand.”
“I've got a futon,” said Utena. Of course she had a futon. How did she forget something like that?
“Himemiya Anthy? Seriously?” Wakaba stared at her across the cafe table, spoon raised, lunch forgotten.
“You know her?”
“Do I know her?” asked Wakaba, shaking her head in wonderment. “You mean do you know her? She was in our class in high school. You don't remember?”
“I don't know,” began Utena, but she stopped. In that moment, she realized she could remember Himemiya. The memories exploded in her mind like flowers on the first warm day of spring: first year, they'd had homeroom together. They'd bombed the same math test... “Stop looking at me like that, Wakaba! Who can remember everyone from highschool? And you know I'm fuzzy on that year!”
First year was when she'd had the accident. She couldn't remember anything to do with the accident, and likely never would. The doctors said that gaps like that were normal. It happened, in extreme cases of trauma, but she was lucky to be alive, and she'd recovered just fine.
“My poor Utena,” whispered Wakaba. She shoved her spoon into her soup, clasped her hands, and looked tragic. “Is it true that you have forgotten our love? You promised me we'd be together always. You promised you'd always buy me lunch.”
“If I promised that I was an idiot,” said Utena, “and vastly overestimated my fortune.”
Wakaba grasped her hand across the table. “Please, remember me! Remember everything we were to each other!”
Utena stuck an index finger to Wakaba's forehead and pushed her back into her seat. “I remember you just fine! I'm just fuzzy about some things! The doctors said...”
Utena sighed. She hated thinking about all that.
“Me and Himemiya,” she tried, settling back in her own chair. “Were we close?”
Wakaba frowned. The waiter brought them more water. He was a sour man with an awkward ponytail but a handsome face. He seemed to ready to ask if they wanted more. Wakaba waved him off without looking at him.
“I'm not sure about that,” said Wakaba, “but you insisted she have lunch with us sometimes.”
Wakaba nodded. “You felt bad for her because she had no friends.”
That sounded like just the sort of thing she'd do. Utena winced.
“Agh, that's awkward.” And here she'd introduced herself like a stranger. It explained some things, though. “I was at least polite about it, right? I didn't like, order her around or anything?”
“You showed her your customary grace and tact,” said Wakaba.
Utena slumped against the table.
“I was afraid you'd say something like that.”
“Say, Himemiya,” she said to the closed door, “I wish you'd said something.”
No, that wouldn't do.
“Himemiya,” she tried, instead, “let's go out. Like old friends.”
Old friends. Something about that didn't ring honest. Utena sighed and kicked backwards, pacing a full way up the hallway and back again, thumbing the tickets in her hand. They weren't great seats, but she'd gotten a decent student discount and ...hell, how did she even know that classical music was even Himemiya's thing? It wasn't Utena's thing. At least as far as she could recall. She'd just passed the ad on campus and for a moment it'd seemed right.
But what 'right' was was a constantly shifting principle. Utena stopped, one heel raised, back in front of the door. She took a breath. She raised her chin, turned around, and held her hand up to knock.
“Himemiya,” she tried instead, “I'm an idiot.”
Getting closer. Utena sighed and put her head against the door.
“Well,” she muttered into the wood grain, “nothing for it I guess.”
She kicked the door open with a gusto.
“Hoooooome!” she called, and stormed the entry hall like a soldier headed to war. “Say, Himemyaaaah what the heck is that?”
“Mm?” Utena's roommate looked up from where she sat on the floor, in a nest of blankets, her hand frozen in offering. She held a clump of cheese between her thumb and middle finger, dangled precariously over the mass of fur in her lap – a mottled grey creature, frozen in the act of taking. Its pink hands grasped at the dangled food. It looked at Utena dead across the room and its large eyes went larger. It made some sort of high, shrieky burble.
“That's–” began Utena. A mouse? A rat? Too big for either.
“My rhinoceros,” said Himemiya, after a moment. She relaxed, shoulders shaking with faint laughter, and in her relaxation the weird beast in her lap fell upon her lowered hand. It decimated the cheese. “By which I mean, my marmoset – Chu-Chu! That's rude! Wipe your face when you are done. This is Chu-Chu. Surely, you remember Chu-Chu?”
“Chu-Chu...” Utena stared. Himemiya had a marmoset. Of course she had a marmoset. Himemiya loved animals, the stranger the better. This was a strange, overwhelming fact, called back into the strange, overwhelming present.
Chu-Chu looked up at her. He hissed. His ears jumped up, just slightly.
Utena sat down across from her roommate. She stared at her, and the marmoset, for a long moment.
“Chu-Chu,” she said, suddenly. He was somehow plainer and scragglier than she expected. “Well. Better that then the mothballs.”
Which, Utena realized all at once, was a real danger. She'd found him in a sock drawer once. It'd been a really bad scene.
“See, Chu-Chu?” laughed Himemiya, as the animal pawed at her hand, looking for more food. Himemiya tweaked one of his bobbing ears. The beast retreated into the blanket. “She does recognize you.”
“How could I forget,” said Utena a little tonelessly, because really, how could she?
Himemiya did like piano solos, if the way her eyes lit up meant anything. Utena didn't quite trust herself to take her roommate's smile at face value. Something told her that might lead to some terrible misunderstandings.
Still, Himemiya paused a moment when Utena showed her the tickets. Her eyes went flat, she tilted her head, and then after a moment the smile came to the corners of her mouth, slow and careful, and somehow warmer for the hesitation in it.
“Ah,” she said, “'The Sunlit Garden.' How lovely.”
“You know it?”
“No,” said Himemiya. “This artist's quite new.”
“Yeah, it's an on campus thing,” said Utena, “I just figured, it's been so long since. … well, it's not like, a huge deal or anything. Just saw the poster and thought 'Ah, she might like that!'”
“She might,” agreed Himemiya.
“You don't have to go,” said Utena. She felt like she had to say that. Had to make it clear she didn't want to force her out there if she didn't want to.
Himemiya peered at her. “Did I say I wouldn't?”
Utena's eased back on her heels. She didn't know she'd been holding her breath. “No.”
“I shall consider it a date,” said Himemiya.
“Right,” said Utena, with great confidence. “Well. I'll go get changed.”
She promptly walked into the door.
The little concert actually was quite good, though Utena could hardly call herself an expert. The pianist was pretty young, they said. A prodigy, they said. An alumnus who'd agreed to take a break from a blossoming career to do a favor for his old alma mater. That might have been reason enough to pay attention, but Utena found herself focusing less on the piano and more on her roommate, who'd slipped a hand into hers. They were in the back. No one complained when Utena sat bolt upright in her seat.
“Eh, Himemiya...” she started.
Himemiya stared straight ahead. She didn't seem to have heard Utena at all. Then, between the rise and fall of notes, said: “I used to play, you know.”
“Oh,” said Utena. For the moment she could see it: an empty music room, a silhouette across the floor. Music which floated up through the old abandoned halls of a dorm room where barely anyone lived. “That's right, huh. You were pretty good.”
“That's what my tutor said,” said Himemiya. “He always thought I should go to music school. He thought I'd be very good. He offered to write me a recommendation.”
Utena blinked. Fuzzy memories or not, this seemed a little different. “Really? What happened?”
“He had an accident,” said Himemiya, without looking away from the pianist. “He fell down some stairs, and after I never saw him again. He left the country to recover, I think.”
“So you didn't get your recommendation?” asked Utena. “That's lousy.”
“It's fine,” said Himemiya. She turned, and smiled. “It was a very long time ago, and besides, if I had gone, I doubt we would have met the way that we did.”
“....Ah, guess not.” The music continued. If there was something lonelier in the melody, Utena didn't have the ears to pick it out. Himemiya fingers flexed over the back of Utena's hand. Utena forced herself to stare ahead, tried to affect the expression of a good listener – but Utena'd never really been good at staying still, even without the distraction of a girl thumbing her knuckles.
“I suppose it is really not so bad a song, after all,” said Himemiya. “How funny, I don't think I really listened to it before.”
“I thought you said you didn't know it.”
“I don't,” said Himemiya.
Photographers were lined up outside after the show. There weren't many. A few of them looked like they came from the campus newspaper, but the flashes were startling enough to make Utena's heel skid on a patch of ice halfway down the chapel steps. She righted herself fine, sticking the final step with a twist a gymnast might've envied, but it was in turning to check for Himemiya that her shoulder bumped a woman in a fur coat. She stumbled all over again. She found herself stuck in the crook of the stranger's arm.
“Excuse me,” said the woman. She had fiery red hair and fierce features.
“Excused?” said Utena, startled both by her beauty and by the green in her eyes. “My hero?”
The woman sighed. She stepped back. Utena found her feet.
'Woah she's good looking,' thought Utena, her heart in her throat. 'A model?'
“...watch your step,” said the woman, in a cool tone. She stalked up the stairs and through the doors of the chapel.
A moment later, she felt a pressure on her arm.
“Ah,” whispered Himemiya, “have you been stolen from me?”
Utena shook herself. “No, never. Who was that?”
Himemiya peered in the direction the woman had gone. “She must be a friend of the soloist.”
That would make sense. Utena looked down at Himemiya. Himemiya had hooked one hand into the bend of her elbow. She didn't wear gloves.
“Must be,” Utena agreed. Then, frowning, added: “Himemiya... where's your coat?”
Himemiya peered down at herself. It was hard to tell if the surprise in her eyes was feigned or real. It could go either way, Utena was beginning to learn. “Ah,” she said, “it appears I never brought one.”
She hadn't. Utena could've kicked herself. She'd been so buzzed about getting there and if she'd liked it, and not staring too hard at her, she'd completely missed the fact Himemiya appeared to own nothing heavier for the winter than her light travel jacket.
“Aren't you cold?”
“Absolutely chilled,” said Himemiya with a straight face.
“Here.” Utena shrugged out of her own and swung it around her shoulders.
“Ah,” whispered Himemiya as Utena smoothed her collar. Her breath was wispy as gust of wind. Her hair tickled Utena's cheek, just slightly. “My hero, but now you must be cold. Let me walk close to you. There is no sense in you freezing.”
They walked back to the apartment together, Himemiya pressed close to her side.
Utena didn't feel the cold at all.
The next day, Utena took the shortcut along the river. A man in a blue peacoat found her crossing the old bridge. She spotted him in profile, staring out over the water. Utena stared resolutely ahead and marched on by -- but it was no good. He stood out like a beacon. He’d obviously been waiting for her. He obviously intended to have his say.
“Yo, Tenjou,” he said, brushing his hair out of his eyes. “It’s been awhile.”
“Don’t know you,” said Utena, without looking back. She nearly meant it.
“Then isn’t it interesting that I know you?” Utena walked faster. “I saw you at the show last night.”
Utena stopped, because she had express words for lines like that, and they often came with a good elbow to the gut.
“If you’re stalking us I’ll call the police.”
“How cruel. I was was there to see a friend.”
“And now you’re just waiting around to see me?”
“Yes, actually,” he said, “We have a few things in common.”
“Ohtori. 1997. Dropped out due to medical issues.”
In the end, they leaned together on the bridge, staring at the slate grey water below. She kept a careful distance from him.
“... don’t get the wrong idea,” she said, but at that moment she knew him. She knew that smirk. She knew those dark glinting eyes. “I barely remember anything about my first year. But seriously, Tsuchiya Ruka, when did I have anything to do with you?”
“Very little,” he admitted, with a rueful smile. “Besides, of course, a few choice words.”
“Creep,” she said.
“I am honored you remember enough to repeat them.”
“I’m leaving,” said Utena, pushing back.
“I need your honest opinion.”
“Do you think she’s free?”
He didn't say it like a man looking for a date. Utena’s hand hesitated on the stones. Ruka didn’t look at her. He stared straight out across the water. He looked washed out, without a hat or even gloves. He wore a ring on his right hand, too plain for an engagement ring, too engraved for -- Utena frowned. Something seemed off about that. But she couldn’t say just what, because Ruka folded one hand over the other and the memory flickered out like a candle.
“How would I know?” said Utena.
The corner of Ruka’s mouth turned up, just slightly. “You wouldn’t, I guess. Ah, well. She looked happy. It’s enough to know that.”
“That charitable, huh?”
“What do you think?”
“I think…” said Utena. She stopped. She didn’t really know what to think. It’d been a long time ago. “Listen. Tsuchiya. Tell me one thing.”
“Your wish is my command.”
“Save it. What did you say to her back then?”
It was one of the most important questions she never thought she’d ask. Ruka ran a hand through his greying hair. His lips parted, just slightly. It was something too pained to be a smile, but too relieved to be a grimace. Around them, the first few flakes of snow tangled with the leaves. They began to fall, light and steady, into the river where they melted and died. They stuck to the shoulders of his peacoat, where they hung like little squashed stars, before fabric sucked them up into nothing.
“We talked about a lot of things,” he mused, snow catching in his eyelashes. “We reminisced. Those times we spent together, when we were young. About a girl I knew who believed in miracles. A boy who took her far too lightly. And a girl who was still noble enough to do amazing things if only she thought to look. I thought, if I pushed my way back into her world, I could get her to hear me, and she'd realize that she wasn't as ruined as she thought -- ah, but I don’t think I quite managed it. It’s a bit tricky, when you’ve got a foot in the grave. Even trickier, when you’re already dead. And make no mistake, Tenjou, she wanted me there. I could never blame her for it. I played the part very well.”
The corner of his lip turned up just a bit as he said the last part. He couldn't help himself. It was entirely true.
“Fine,” said Utena, “But what did you say?”
“‘It'll be all right,’” said Tsuchiya Ruka, tilting his face into the wind. “‘It'll be all right, Anthy.’”
Something about hearing that name made Utena’s head come up in surprise, but no matter how hard she stared at Ruka’s vanishing back, she couldn’t figure out what about that sentence seemed so wrong.
That night, Utena didn't sleep. She kept thinking of the way Himemiya had said 'he fell down the stairs' and the way she said 'If I had gone, I doubt we would have met.' The first stood out for how little she'd cared. The second stood out for how much Utena had known in that moment she'd cared. Crap, she'd thought, her heart in her ears. This was really important to Himemiya. She did the real smile. The smile that crinkled the corners of her eyes and didn't freeze on her face.
'Crap,' thought Utena. 'I'm really missing something, here. Craaaaap.'
Utena came home to choirs screaming in her head. The stairs to the apartment seemed to take forever. They took longer, knowing Himemiya was right behind her, and she wanted to look back to see her, but somehow it seemed wrong, it seemed weird, and Himemiya might get the idea she was worried, and–
Utena dreamed about bells and cars and blue skies. She dreamed about broken glass and carousels. She woke up to Chu-Chu attempting to chew her bangs. Himemiya wasn't in her bed. Himemiya sat with her legs crossed on the floor in the common area, watching Utena's little portable TV. The couch was right behind her, but Himemiya seemed to prefer her nest of blankets. She looked up, awash in her hair. She offered Utena a bag of crisps.
Utena crossed her arms and tapped a foot.
“Oi, Himemiya,” said Utena, “don't you have class tomorrow?”
Himemiya looked up, blinking. Chu-Chu skittered past Utena's ankle, winding his way up Himemiya's arm and vanishing under her hair. “Ah, don't you? Did I wake you?”
“Yes to the first, no to the second,” said Utena. The TV wasn't terribly loud, actually. It was down so low she could barely hear the electronic hiss of its screen. It was some kind of celebrity gossip program. She knew because of all the people moving over red carpets. “...you'll ruin your eyes watching stuff in the dark like this.”
“I don't really mind watching things in the dark,” said Himemiya.
“You'll mind when you need glasses,” said Utena.
Himemiya raised her eyebrows. She stared. After a moment, she smiled. Utena swallowed, sighed, and fetched some water from the kitchenette. She sat down next to her, staring at the flickering screen.
“...well I can't say anything. I'm terrible with faces,” said Utena, watching a particularly blonde figure in a poofy dress undulate her way through a crowd. “So, what's this one famous for?”
“An heiress, I believe,” said Himemiya. She took a sip of water. She didn't take the glass from Utena's hand, simply took her by the wrist and guided the rim up to her lips. Utena paid particularly close attention to the television as she did that. “Her family is the head of a very wealthy multi-national company.”
“...sooo she's famous for doing nothing,” said Utena, as a girl who'd gotten where she had mostly on good grades, legacies, and scholarships. The girl on TV had a stupid amounts of jewelry – was that a bell? “That's an… existence I guess. You must end up either boring or crazy.”
“You think so?” asked Himemiya, carefully waiting as Utena took her own sip of water before adding: “Which am I, then?”
Utena nearly choked. “Aaaaah,” she gagged, pushing the glass down. “I didn't mean– I don't.. remember you telling me much about your family.”
She really didn't. There wasn't any sense of deja vu. Just a deep black gap in her recollection, filled with the sound of breaking glass or bells. She wasn't really sure which.
“You never asked,” said Himemiya. Chu-Chu chose that moment to butt his head against Utena's back, as though that might help her with her cough. “Ah, I suppose I considered it a complicated matter. I am not very close to my family. We were not so showy as that, and anyway, we haven't spoken in years...”
“Falling out? They cut you off?”
“No, nothing like that,” said Himemiya. Utena thought about her bags and her pink dress and knew that much was true. “It is simply that we do not have terribly much in common anymore. It is quite enough to them to know that I am somewhere, and that I am well enough.”
“'Somewhere' and 'well enough.'” Utena shook her head. “That sounds a little cold.”
“Do you speak often with your aunt?” asked Himemiya.
“I call her,” said Utena, because of course Himemiya wouldn't have asked about her parents. Of course Himemiya knew about her parents. “Not...as often as I probably should. I guess I should tell her that everything got here okay, and that classes are all right, and that....oi but I don't want her to think it's some emergency or something. I worry her enough!”
“You see,” said Himemiya, “it is a little like that.”
“Still, can't say it's been years,” said Utena. “Seems a little lonely.”
“Are you ever lonely?”
“Not now,” said Utena, before she could properly process the question. Himemiya looked at her. It was that look that made her want to cry out: yes, yes, I have been lonely. I have been very lonely. Please, I don't want to see just my reflection in your eyes.
But her mouth never seemed to say what her heart did.
She said: “Sometimes. I used to really miss my parents. I guess I still do sometimes. When I think about it. I dunno. Must make me a super ungrateful kid, huh? But I've lived longer without them then I did with them. It's something that used to make me want to stop breathing. But now just I think 'oh, they're not here anymore.'”
“Yes,” said Himemiya, “I understand that very well.”
“Your parents, Himemiya?”
“No,” said Himemiya. “My brother.”
Utena sat up. Chu-Chu went still. “Your brother? I didn't know–”
“You never asked,” said Himemiya, with just the ghost of a smile: quiet and far away, like stars in the night sky. “He died a very long time ago. There was a time when I thought of him quite often, but I do not so much, anymore.”
“It is interesting,” said her professor when Utena came to his office after class, straight-backed and severely sleep deprived, “my lectures have inspired some extreme reactions over the course of my career, but I cannot say that I am used to making my students snore.”
“If it's any comfort,” offered Utena, “I'm used to to getting chewed out by teachers?”
The professors eyebrows raised. “Yes,” he said simply, “I can believe that. Please sit down.”
Utena sat. She folded one leg over the other and bobbed her heel. The chair was deep and comfy. For a moment, she caught herself drifting again – but the sharp rattle of the professor's keyboard kept her in the present.
“To be honest, the matter is of little interest to me,” he said, “except that I am very technically your academic adviser, and, considering your medical history and that you are a scholarship student, the administration has requested that I take some care with you.”
“Meaning I've got brain damage and they're afraid my head will explode.”
Her professor's narrow, pale eyebrows came together. “No,” he said, patiently, “that is not precisely what they said, but, in my capacity as your adviser, I shall advise that you perhaps desist from activities that may damage it further. The effects of sleep deprivation are well known and well studied, and more to the point, it would be irritating to have to fail you. This is a core requirement, and you will have to take it again. Repeat performances are tiresome, Miss Tenjou.”
“Okay,” said Utena. “I'll avoid windows and sudden drops.”
“That is rather not the point I was making.”
“Sorry,” said Utena. She raised her hand, dutifully. “Question, though?”
Her professor eyed her warily across the desk. “Ask.”
“You're a psychiatrist, right? You specialize in people like me, right?”
“Correction: I was a practitioner, but now I am strictly an academic,” said her professor, with the patience of one who had answered this question many times before.
“Okay fine,” said Utena, “but what do you know about memory?”
Her professor stopped typing. He glanced up at her. The cursor blinked in his glasses.
“Some things,” he said, “but brain injuries remain quite mysterious to modern science.”
“The doctors said I probably won't ever remember anything from around the accident,” said Utena, rubbing her nose slightly. She never liked talking about the accident. It gave her a strange lurching feeling in her stomach, like the floor tipping out from under her. “I expected that. But is it possible for anything to come back?”
“It is dependent on the nature of the memory loss,” said her professor, frowning slightly. “In the instance of traumatic brain injury, that is highly unlikely, but in instances of psychogenic amnesia, that is memory loss spurred by traumatic experience, and the possibility does exist, though treatment is difficult. It is not a condition that is the result of any physical injury. However, in some cases, finding the source of trauma may result in the recovery of those memories. Man has been very foolish chasing the solution at times – truth serums, hypnosis. Sound in theory, but in practice often… unreliable. And sometimes patients recover without treatment. It's quite bothersome.”
Bothersome. He sounded like he felt the doctor suffered more than the patient. Utena sighed. “So you're saying sometimes they just come back… whenever?”
She thought she caught a flash of annoyance in the professor's eyes. “Not precisely,” he said, idly tapping his space bar. “Though that sort of recollection is not unheard of in cases that do not involve some form of trauma. The human mind is a curious thing in that respect. Outside stimulus can signal responses that take us back to places we had not expected to return. Sight, sound, smells. There have been quite a number of books written on that subject.”
“Any of yours?”
Her professor snorted. “I am not so sentimental.”
“Fine, fine,” Utena propped her foot on the desk and pushed, sending herself into a full spin while she thought about what he said, “but what if the memories aren't quite… right?”
“Like, you know they're things that happened, but you know they're not quite the thing that happened. Like, say, I know: 'I definitely have blonde hair.' But when I remember the thing, I didn't think I'd remember it being pink, or something wild like that. Or, say, 'I definitely know that there's no way you can put a castle in the sky.' And yet, somehow, you remember seeing something like that.”
Her professor, who had brittle, white hair, stared at her for a long time. His finger had sunk into the space bar. The computer whined. He removed his finger. He rested one hand on his knee. Slowly, his eyebrows rose.
“Meaning a blurred line between fact and fantasy,” he said, “as a way of coping with a traumatic experience. Yes. There are instances like that.”
“Really? So, what do you do? How do you pick out what's real, and what's not?”
“The truth in one's mind is often complicated. There is a reason that I am a university professor, and no longer a practicing psychiatrist,” he said simply. “Miss Tenjou, I am strictly your academic adviser.”
“You knew someone like that, didn't you?”
“It is something I encountered,” said her professor, “in my early career.”
“It is not a case I discuss.”
“There is counseling available on campus.”
“Now, hang on, Mikage–”
He stared at her over the rim of his glasses. “Hm?”
“...Professor Nemuro,” said Utena, blinking. Because that was his name. When had it ever been anything else?
She'd stood up somewhere along the way. Her hand was on the desk. She dropped it and stepped back.
“Miss Tenjou,” he said, “I do hope you remember to get some sleep and, next time, preferably not in my classroom.”
“Welcome back,” said Himemiya. She stood on her toes atop one of the side tables. She fixed a picture on the wall. Himemiya had come with many pictures, as it happened. She'd spent the last few days arranging them and then rearranging them. She had nailed hooks into the wall at the end of the entry hall, but the picture was never the same each time Utena walked in. Himemiya either really loved heights or she simply could not make up her mind.
“Red, today?” asked Utena, slinging her bag over one of the unpacked boxes. Professor Nemuro's words stuck with her. She couldn't really say why, exactly.
“Ah, I am just seeing how well it suits,” said Himemiya. “There was a letter for you.”
Utena froze in the process of unbuttoning her coat. She stopped, considered, took a breath, and dropped it on the floor.
“Yes. I've left it on the coffee table.”
The envelope on the table was white with a gold rim. The envelope on the table had a red seal. The seal had... not a rose, which Utena had strangely expected, but a heart, which was considerably less exciting.
“Oh,” said Utena, picking it up. Far from quick and to the point, the letter felt stuffed to the brim with poor intentions. She shook it once, took a whiff of the perfume, winced, and tore it open. She made it one line before she crushed it between both of her hands and tossed over her shoulder.
“Garbage.” It bounced off of the far wall and into the waste-bin. Himemiya, still balanced on the side table, paused in her adjustments to applaud.
“Well done,” said Himemiya. “What is that called, a 'slam dunk?'”
“No, that's a...” Utena paused. “You're making fun of me, aren't you.”
“Never have I seen a love letter destroyed so stylishly,” said Himemiya, with real admiration.
“What makes you think it's a love letter?”
“Chanel No. 5,” said Himemiya. She held her dress to her leg as she lowered herself to sit on the edge of the side table. “It is rather a classic, isn't it? He must wish to impress you.”
“He must be really desperate, you mean,” sighed Utena. “It's tacky. He sends one of these every few years. It's junk mail, like a chain letter, or being told you won some timeshare in America.”
“I like those letters,” said Himemiya.
“I don't even like the smell,” said Utena. “I think he's just got a form letter. Sends it to every ex if he's back in town.”
“Do you ever answer?”
“I dated him for three months in highschool,” said Utena.
“Yes,” said Himemiya. “I remember.”
Himemiya's smile had gone stiff at the corners. Her head tilted to one side, her eyes hard like cut emeralds. Utena had never really been one for that kind of jewelry. Something about it always seemed so cold and proprietary. Himemiya would remember. Of course she would. They used to eat lunch together. They used to go everywhere together. Except, of course, the times when… when what? She was out for a date? Out for a picnic in the park? Out for a drive? Except that couldn't be right. Pain in the ass suitor No. 5 had a bike, not a car. Why did she think he had a car?
'Glad you remember,' Utena wanted to say, 'because I sure don't.'
'Himemiya,' Utena wanted to say, 'you know I didn't mean to...'
“...Yeah,” she said, “I was really stupid about it, wasn't I? Sorry, Himemiya. I guess I ditched you a lot, didn't I? He was a real waste of time. I barely remember his name.”
The life came back to Himemiya's eyes. She lowered her feet to the floor. She always cleaned barefoot. She reached down, found the small picture frame on the table, and sat it upright again. She stood up, walked three steps, and stared up at the large picture hanging on the wall. She framed it in the angle of her index finger and her thumb.
“What do you think?” she asked.
Utena came up beside her.
“I don't know,” she said, “I don't think the red really works.”
“It doesn't, really,” said Himemiya. “I will have to try something else.”
Himemiya squeezed her hand. Utena squeezed it back. When she'd laced their fingers together, she could quite be sure, but she held it tight, so tight it almost hurt, and somehow she couldn't bear to let her go just then.
The next morning, Utena found a new picture mounted on the wall. The flowers were white, and arranged quite artfully. Utena stood on her toes and leaned over the side table to get a better look. After a moment, she jerked her head back.
She tipped her head sideways. Maybe she was looking at it the wrong way. She'd never been really big into art.
“Himemiya...” said, after some consideration of surrealism and symbolism and whatever else. “Are you sure we should...”
Chu-Chu chose that moment to jump onto the side table. He knocked over the small pictures and one of the bowls of potpourri. Dried flower petals flew everywhere.
“Chu-Chu!” Utena dropped down to swat him away. “Argh, stop, we only just set that out–”
Himemiya chose that moment to rise up from the kitchenette. “Are you sure we should what?” she asked, swinging a ladle with great cheer. She made fried dough for breakfast. The remnants sizzled on the counter. The kitchen smelled like burning.
“Are you sure we should keep this here!” said Utena, holding the bowl of potpourri over her head. Chu-Chu reached, imploringly. Utena responded by making a face. He ran to the kitchen, muttering rudely. “Don't give me that, it's for your own good.”
“Do you like the new picture?” asked Himemiya.
“I have class,” said Utena.
“So you're saying it looks like a vagina.”
“Wakaba!” Utena almost spilled her tea. The sour waiter came over with more napkins. Neither looked at him as Utena took them and dabbed at the table in front of her. “I'm not saying that! It looks like flowers!”
“Flowers that look like a vagina.”
“I didn't say that. I implied it,” said Utena, with as much dignity as she could muster. Wakaba waggled an eyebrow. “Fine, yes. That's what I think it looks like. It's not me being some pervert. If you saw it–”
“I believe you,” said Wakaba.
“It's really distracting.”
“I believe you.”
“...just say it.”
“You know,” said Wakaba, “I know a few really good guys, if you want their numbers–”
“I DON'T NEED SOME GUY’S NUMBER. OH MY GOD NOT ALL OF US ARE MAN-EATERS, WAKABA.”
“Know some girls, too?”
“...I did not know that about you.”
“What? It's college.” Wakaba finished her sandwich with one delicate chomp. “But don't worry, you're still the one I'm going to marry. I'm dead set on that.”
“Congratulations on your impending nuptials.”
“Congratulations on yours,” said Wakaba. “But seriously, have you kissed her yet?”
This time Utena did spill her tea. The waiter came by with more napkins. Utena asked for the check and chased him off.
“What makes you think–”
“One time, in first year,” said Wakaba, “I was coming to meet you, and I saw you out on the green. We said we'd have lunch together, but I don't think you remembered. You were lying down and she was sitting up. You were talking about some weird thing, like the shape of clouds or flower arrangement or something. She looked like she wanted to kill me.”
“Of course you'd ask that. You never saw it. She never really liked anybody but you,” said Wakaba. “You just looked surprised. Jumped right up. I think you forgot you were out on the green. I think you forgot there were other people in the world.”
“Don't 'sorry' me,” said Wakaba. “All I could think was 'Damn, I wish I could be that into someone.' It didn't matter that you were both girls. It didn't even matter you were seeing someone at the time. It just seemed… amazing, to get so lost just talking to someone. They never really go into that part in the books. I didn't really think it was supposed to be that simple. I felt really cheated.”
“I forgot all about that.”
“Did you, really?”
Utena closed her eyes and smelled fresh cut grass and dried roses. “No,” she said after a moment, “now that you mention it. You were there too, weren't you?”
“Always,” said Wakaba, smiling crookedly.
“I don't deserve you.”
“You really don't,” said Wakaba. “So. Have you kissed her?”
“I don't know.”
The waiter came with the check. Wakaba slid it across the table.
“Ugh,” said Wakaba, “if she's going to be a homewrecker, I want to at least know she's doing it right. You're paying for this.”
“Fine,” said Utena. “I owe you.”
She reached into her bag. Her fingers bumped something hard and smooth. It was Himemiya's picture. The one she kept propped on the side table. Chu-Chu must've knocked it into her bag during the chaos that morning. Utena stared at it for a long time. She'd never given that one a very good look. She looked at it now.
Her eyes went wide.
“...someday...” she whispered. She dropped the picture. It clicked back into her bag. Her hands shook as she pulled out her wallet. Her fingers twitched as she pulled out a few notes.
“This should cover the tip.” Utena slapped down twice the amount on the bill and stood, the river suddenly stark in her view. “I have to go.”
The church bells rang as Utena ran home. She ran along the river. She ran to the front door. She ran up the stairs. She ran to the apartment door. She shut the door and fell against it, suddenly out of breath. Her hands tangled on the knob. Those stairs really were murder. Who designed the damn place?
She stared down the hall. At this time of day, it felt washed in shadows.
“Roommate reporting,” she said, quietly.
At the end of the hall, Himemiya regarded her with a measured patience. “Welcome home,” she said.
“You took music lessons, huh?”
“He died, huh?”
“I never did ask, did I.”
“...how rude,” said Utena. She laughed, despite her lack of breath. “And I haven't shared anything with you. How about this: my first year of high school, I fell out a window in the school observatory.”
Warm hands covered hers on the door knob. When Himemiya had crossed the length of the hall, Utena couldn't be sure. All she was sure of is she was there now, looking down at her. Her eyes were lost in the fall of her hair, and she didn't smell like roses at all.
“Except,” said Utena, feeling the hair brush her face. “That wasn't what happened to me, was it?”
“No,” said Himemiya, with a sad smile.
“Anthy,” said Utena, feeling the world crack inside her chest. “Anthy, I–”
The hands slid up her cheeks. Fingers brushed at the wetness rolling down her cheeks.
“Ah,” said Anthy, “you have finally said it. Call me that from now on. I dislike formalities.”
Utena let go of the door and grabbed her arms. She felt as though she might fall. She didn't. Anthy held her a touch too tight to let that happen.
“I couldn't stop it.”
“I couldn't keep my grip.”
“I couldn't be your prince.”
“I have no use for princes. Have I mentioned?” She hadn't. Utena stared up at her. Anthy stared back. There wasn't very much distance between them at that point, so Anthy leaned in as she added: “You are Utena, and that is quite enough. There is one thing, however.”
“I did intend to be patient,” said Anthy, “but I am very tired of being good.”
Her lips tasted like toothpaste and fried dough. Of course it did. Who drank rose tea at that time of day?
“That’s the third time I banged into that… that picture. We should really move it. It is a little much.”
“You think so?”
“I suppose you are right, but you must forgive me. Subtext was not working in my favor. I was running out of ideas. It worked, didn’t it?”
“You think so–Um!”
“Mm. Yes. I think it did.”
Silence, for a time.
“Fine, fine, fiiiine I see your–ha–point but shouldn’t we move this somewhere–mm–else?”
“Really? I think this is quite comfortable.”
“We’re in the middle of the common area!”
“Are we expecting company?”
“I’m still wearing my socks.”
“Yes. How unfortunate for you.”
“...bah. What did I expect–oh! You’re too much. Really. You’re totally too much.”
“I don’t want to wait anymore.”
“I’ve waited long enough.”
Utena had much to voice after that, but very few of these things were words. There were times for pretty phrases and declarations, as it happened this was not one of them.
Still, after a time, Utena gripped the edge of the coffee table. She reached for Anthy’s shoulder, warm and real.
“Hey,” she said, in a voice that shook far too much. “Hey. Can I see you? Up here?”
Anthy paused. She glanced up, through a tumble of dark hair. “Mm?” she hummed, in a way that Utena felt in places she hadn’t thought about until just then.
“You don’t have to. I just. I want see you. I want–I want--”
“Ah,” said Anthy. She moved. The world became the crook of her shoulder, and the corner of her jaw, and that was fine. Utena wrapped her arms around her back. Her palms skimmed the scar tissue between her shoulders. It was fine, it was fine. This was the whole world, and it was all right.
That night Utena rolled up the futon and shoved it in a closet. There wasn’t really any need for it. The bed would do.
“You know,” said Anthy, as though she were sharing some deep secret of the universe. Lying face to face with her, legs tangled in the sheets, everything seemed like it could be a deep secret. “Chivalry is quite overrated. Let’s stay like this from now on. I like this arrangement.”
“Thank god for administrative incompetence,” grinned Utena. “You know, they said I had a single.”
“They did,” said Anthy.
Utena paused. Utena sat up. Utena squinted down at Anthy. She squinted for a long time.
“Anthy,” she said.
“Ah,” said Anthy, “my name sounds nice when you say it. I had hoped it would.”
Utena ignored the dizzying flush that gave her for the moment. “Anthy,” she started again, “what’s your major, anyway?”
“I didn’t know this school had a botany program.”
Anthy began to laugh. It was a light, musical laugh – and the sound of it seemed to bring the room alive, packed boxes and all.
“Anthy,” said Utena, who had begun to understand patience in her own way, “do you even go to this school?”
“No,” said Anthy, who laughed and laughed, “I graduated some time ago. It isn’t an issue, is it?”
“Ack,” said Utena, “I should have known. You know, there’s rules about that–”
“Tenjou Utena,” said Anthy, watching her sidelong, “were you ever someone who cared about rules?”
Utena thought about it. “...you know,” she said, “it seems to have slipped my mind.”
“Yes. Forgot completely.”
“How sad. I shall have to remind you.”
“You could,” said Utena, as hands cupped her face. “You know what? Let's do whatever you want this time. I want to know what you like, too.”
Anthy laughed. She rolled her onto her back. She took her hand. She kissed her, and she did just that.