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i caught myself

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It’s been years. The three of them, once aiming for the top together, have now gone their separate ways. This is fine with her, since she’s never had any shortage of friends. To begin with, they were never really friends, were they? Even as she looks back, remembers their last time on stage together, beads of sweat rolling down her neck as she danced alongside them… It was fun, it was youth, but that’s all over and done with. She’s in college now, and the only contact she has with them is through social media. They exchange mostly polite words here and there, give each other a like sometimes, and that’s all.

So she’s reasonably confused when Yae’s newest post shows up on her timeline, and she very nearly drops her phone. Which would be bad, considering she just got it maybe a month ago.

Her eyes narrow. She looks about the same: short with a baby face and that long, dark brown hair. That isn’t what shocked her; she knows Yae. It’s the person standing next to her in the photo. It takes a moment for her thoughts to catch up with what she sees, but she understands, by the sleek black hair and sharp, red-tinted eyes that always pissed her off a little. What she doesn’t understand is why she’s got an arm around her, as Yae lightly grasps at her sleeve in response. Is she missing something here? They were rivals. Why are they getting all friendly?

The obvious answer is that time has passed and they’re no longer rivals, but this, she concludes, is stupid. Yae isn’t that type. It doesn’t matter that they never knew each other well, and never even had a proper, pleasant conversation. Hell, they bickered constantly, and swore they wanted nothing to do with each other, but…

All too aware of her growing doubt, but not wanting to admit to it, she opens her contact list. Her finger hovers over one particular icon. It’s time.

“Oh, Anette,” she says, growing closer with each step taken. Her smooth hair flutters in the wind. It’s straight, unlike her own. “So what’s this for?”

Hearing this, she frowns. “Not a ‘good to see you,’ or anything? It’s been ages since we last saw each other.” Talk about rude.

“I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but we weren’t the best of friends, even then. And that’s probably a good thing.” Her expression remains as composed as ever, and Anette feels a rising boil inside her. Frustration. She’d forgotten what that felt like. No one induces it quite like her, after all. “So, what is it? What did you call me out here for?”

She ignores her. “Why don’t we get coffee?”

Yae pauses, looking at her with those deceivingly soft eyes. “...Alright. I don’t know this area, though.”

“Leave it to me.”

They’re sitting across from each other at a table by the window. There may have been other people inside besides the two of them, but this she is entirely unaware of. Or maybe it’s that she doesn’t care. Others have always flocked to her easily, but she just as easily slips out of the crowds. The attention is tiring. She may be outgoing, but she isn’t a people person.

It’s for this reason that she closes her eyes and takes a sip.

She knows the person she’s brought here is getting tired of this. She still hasn’t explained herself, and she can just feel Yae’s patience wearing away, the thread about to snap. Anette folds her hands. “Hey, do you remember Scarlet Camellia?”

“Do you take me for an idiot? Of course I haven’t forgotten.” Her expression, as always, is unaffected. Like she doesn’t know.

Silence, for a moment. She stares at her coffee, and wonders idly to herself how things came to be this way. “...Those days were so important to us. Even if we fought, we fought together.” She stops. “So, why are you…with her...”

Whatever Yae was expecting to hear, this wasn’t it. Her eyes widen in surprise, seldom seen, and she coughs in some attempt to collect herself. “You sound like a jealous girlfriend.”

“You know that’s not what I meant!” she says, loud enough that people are probably beginning to stare. More quietly, “I wouldn’t care if you got some...boyfriend or something. Honest.” Even as she says this, the word is difficult to speak. “It’s just, why her? We always swore we’d defeat her. You’re not sleeping with the enemy, are you?”

It’d just come out of her mouth without a thought, because she doesn’t exactly have the strongest filter, but Yae nearly does a spit-take. Nearly is the key word, as she’s too much of a lady to go through with it. That’s the world they were brought up in, after all. She clears her throat extra loudly this time. “Definitely not. But why do you care? Even if I did, which I most certainly have not, how would that affect you?” She looks at her with those brown eyes, soft and round but somehow chilling. “Scarlet Camellia is just a memory. You know that as well as I do. Why bring it up now?”

She’s silent, again. Her coffee is probably getting cold, but she doesn’t have it in her to take another sip. There’s an uneasyness rocking in the pit of her stomach that’s making it impossible. Yae was at fault, wasn’t she? She betrayed their unit bond, their unit that doesn’t exist anymore. She swallows nothing. What did she come here for, anyway? What was she hoping to accomplish? She’s always had great faith in herself, but maybe this time she’s only an idiot. Dressing up in her nice clothes, the latest fashion, just to tell Yae…

Ah. “I don’t...want it to just be a memory.” Yae continues to look at her steadily, waiting for her to continue. She breathes, slowly. “Why does it have to be? We may not be Sagatsubaki students anymore, but you can’t just erase all that time we spent. You, me, and Hibiki, we were the best there was. Maybe we weren’t best friends, and maybe we argued a little, or a lot. But I...” She averts her eyes, unable now to face her with the same strong will.

This would be a perfect time for Yae to cut in with some retort, cruel and unforgiving. It’s her nature, or maybe more accurately, her nurture. But all she says is, “Go on.”

“I don’t want to let that go.”

She turns to look at her again, only to find no reaction; she does have the best poker face out of anyone Anette’s ever known. After all the words exchanged at this point, she expects the response to be about as long, but all Yae says is, “This isn’t about Hibiki, is it?”

“What do you mean?” It’s her turn to be surprised, just slightly.

Yae glances out the window. From what she can tell, the sun is still high in the sky. “You’ve mentioned Hibiki and Scarlet Camellia, but it’s not her that you called up to meet on short notice. Do you even know what she’s been up to?”

She thinks back. Ever since their time together in school, she’s had both of them added on social media, as well as on her contact list, but it’s true she has less of a picture of Hibiki’s current state. “I think she’s working on starting up her business? Probably?”

In response, she gives a clear sigh. Was she that off? Sure, they haven’t talked properly in a year or so, but she can’t imagine much has happened since. Yae, however, goes in a different direction. “If you have some sort of feelings for me, just say so. You’re not very honest.”

“I-I told you, it’s not like that!” is her immediate response, but it’s much less confident than last time. She knows this is just their relationship, that Yae only means to prod her into their old bickering. It can’t be anything more than that, and yet, though she’d never, ever admit it, there’s a squeeze in her chest that makes her whole torso feel strange. Her coffee is definitely cold by now.

At once, the person sitting in front of her is no longer sitting, pushing her chair back to stand upright. She hadn’t paid much attention before, but she’s in a pretty, patterned blue dress. It suits her. “Why don’t we take a walk? Since we’re already here.”

She gets herself back up again as well, bag slung over her shoulder. “Fine by me.”

“I don’t have any reason to tell you this,” she says, appearing very bored, “but my relationship with Miyabi isn’t what you think it is.”

The two of them are taking a stroll down the sidewalk, alongside the glassy windows of shops and restaurants. The spring air is pleasant, maybe a bit chilly, but nothing a light jacket wouldn’t solve. The sun is bright, and she guesses that it’s around early afternoon. She can feel all the eyes on her, from her silverly light hair to the thin scarf draped over her, one of the latest trends, to her height. There’s about twenty centimeters of difference between her and Yae, but far from being a shrinking violet, the person beside her has always had a certain presence. Out of the three of them, much as Anette hates the thought, she’s probably the most of a lady.

Yae, hearing no response, continues, “We were working on something of a project together. She’s a very responsible person, with a lot of integrity. It’s purely business.” She would like to believe that, but something in her tone sounds off. Fishy.

“So are you gonna be girlfriend number four? Five?” She means it to sound half-joking, spontaneous, but she can’t help but wonder if some of that suspicion slipped through. If it did, Yae doesn’t appear to notice. Her expression is no different from usual.

“I really don’t appreciate your comments.” Yae looks at her directly. Thin ice. Careful now, this isn’t a person she’d ever want to get angry. Bickering is one thing, but when her patience actually runs out, as Hibiki often said, it’s time to jet. She’s the sort to smile as she poisons your tea. “Have I said anything about Miyabi before this? You were the one who mentioned her, and I answered you, but have I even once talked about her without being asked?”

She blinks at her. From what she remembers, this is probably true, but… She can’t shake that strange feeling. “Maybe not, but that picture, and the way you talked about her, just…” She stops, and her voice grows very quiet. “It’s like you were throwing all that away, for her. That’s what it felt like.”

Yae is silent, for a moment. She wonders if she’s said too much again, if she’s been a little too honest. For all the nice clothes she’s wearing, it feels more like next to nothing at all. She’s used to bolstering herself with strong words, so why is it that Yae always seems to tear that down, and make her feel weak? She hates it. But that other person sighs, finally, and begins to speak. “If I’m stupid, according to you, then you must be the world’s biggest idiot.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she says immediately, temper flaring. She just opened up to her! What the hell?

“Come with me.” It’s more of a command than a suggestion, as she takes her by the hand as if Anette were the smaller one, and not the other way around. They slip into an alley, between two stores she didn’t catch the name of. If she dies here, someone had better find the body. And it’d better be all over the news, maybe calling her an “extremely fashionable girl.” She could live with that. Or, not.

This aside, away from the buzz of traffic and people, the sound faded and muted like static on a TV, it’s unusually quiet. The space is so narrow that it’s difficult to fit. They’re sort of squeezed in together, single file. And Yae comes closer. What…

She hasn’t let go of her hand.

“I don’t know what you’re planning, but...” she trails off, averting her eyes. Yae likes Miyabi. They took a picture together, standing close together and touching. And yet here she stands before her, in this damp space with no room to move. Here she is, holding her hand and looking straight at her. Her chest feels strange again, and she doesn’t understand anything anymore.

“You don’t, huh?” she says back, but gives her no chance to answer, or defend herself. Because in an instant, she’s pulling her down by the fabric of her blouse, until she can see the twinkle of light in her brown eyes. And they meet in the center. Her head goes blank, all thoughts disappear. All she knows in that moment, as her eyes shut against her cheeks, is the soft touch of her skin and the gentle press of her lips.

It breaks too soon, and Yae’s fingers release their grip on her top, letting her stand upright again. She thinks she’s supposed to say something, anything, but no words will surface in her mind. For once in her life, she has nothing to say, and so she only stares at her. And blinks, wide-eyed.

“You’re an idiot,” Yae says, looking at her as if there were no difference in height at all, “because it took all that to make you realize. I’m not in the habit of hitting people over the head with a dose of reality, but I might have to get back into it for you.”

Her head spins. “Huh…?”

“You know, when I asked earlier, you could have just told me it was a date.”