Story: The Flight Out (all chapters)

Authors: Astra

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Chapter 1

Title: The Flight Out

The Flight Out

The melodic sound of a bell signaled the end of my last class of the day, Western Poetry. Making my way out of the classroom, I struggled to hold on to my bag and a few heavy tomes—some assigned, and some not. I was never a particularly diligent student, and my recent interest in extracurricular reading stemmed from the biographies of poetesses like Amy Lowell and May Sarton as opposed to any special admiration of their creative vision. It was childish, I admit, approaching literature from such a perspective, but the temptation to connect with these women was too strong.

Not paying much attention to my surroundings, I marched firmly to the main exit from the university building. Given the full weight of my load, it was doubtful that I would be able to haul it to the station if I did not get there as fast possible. Just as I stepped out the door, a soft crash sounded behind my back followed by a timid voice calling out for me, “Excuse me… Sei-sama.”

Trying to adjust my load so it would not collapse to the ground at my slightest movement, I turned around and grinned at Yumi, “I thought I told you to call be Satou-san instead. It’s very impolite to disobey your senpai’s requests, you know. And speaking of politeness, I know that I’m drop-dead gorgeous, but you really did not have to swoon at my mere appearance.”

Yumi’s face went through several enticing shades of pink, red, and magenta as she stammered, “I just… I didn’t… I just didn’t expect… that is… I was waiting for quite a while…”

“In other words, you waited here for such a long time, that you already gave up hope of catching me on the way out, so my appearance took you by surprise,” I said, stifling a fake yawn.

“Yes!” she replied, and for a brief moment, a radiant smile lit her face. Yumi really is the cutest when she is smiling.

“So what brought you here anyway? Could it be that you missed me so much, you just had to see me?”

“Umm, no,” the smile disappeared from Yumi’s face, and she looked at the ground right in front of my feet as she answered. She even forgot to express indignation at my teasing question. I frowned a little as she continued, “Actually, I really need to talk to you, Sei-sama. In private.”

“Okay,” I nodded gravely. “Where do you want to go?”

“How about the greenhouse?” she asked, raising her gaze to meet my eyes once again. “If that’s alright with you, that is.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I shrugged as carelessly as I could. It kind of did matter. I glanced at my burden briefly. At least the greenhouse was not far away.

We walked at a brisk pace in complete silence. Yumi led the way. Our brief stop in front of Maria-sama so she could pray gave me a chance to examine her face. She closed her eyes, shutting out anything that might disturb her prayer. Her lips moved almost imperceptibly, so slightly that I doubt even a well-practiced deaf person would have been able to read them. Her face was intent, serious, and completely impenetrable. It made me nervous, but I did not have long to scrutinize it as Yumi finished her prayer with a barely audible “Amen” and we continued on our way.

The greenhouse was just as I remembered it – an ancient glass birdcage overgrown with roses and weeds. Whether acting as a refuge or a prison, it had the same effect of isolating one from the rest of the world. Yumi knelt in front of a rosebush with red flowers. It was probably Rosa chinensis. Personally, I would have been at a complete loss if someone asked me to identify Rosa gigantea in the midst of this floral mess. I deposited my things onto the window ledge and waited patiently for her to speak.

Finally, Yumi clenched her fists, stood up, and looked me right in the eye, but despite these measures, her voice was quiet and hesitating as she asked, “Sei-sama, how did you know that you are…” her voice trailed off, but the phrase still hung in the air. I knew what word would follow, even though there was still that desperate hope that maybe, just maybe I was wrong. She might say, “Sei-sama, how did you know that you are meant to go to Lillian University. I’ll have to decide where to go in a year, and I still have no idea where to even apply.” Then, of course, I would laugh at myself in great relief and make a joke that I decided to go to Lillian because I could not bear the thought of being away from her. And she would turn bright red, but laugh right along with me, recognizing that not doing so would only encourage further teasing.

Yumi clenched her fists even tighter until her knuckles became ghastly white. “How did you know that you are a lesbian?”

For a moment, I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. The wish to run was instinctive, and I was struck by the irony that an escape from the greenhouse would merely fortify its cage symbolism. In any case, my utter inability to move would not have allowed me to run.

Apparently, her words activated the fight-or-flight response in us both, because Yumi suddenly blurted, “I’m sorry, Sei-sama. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” as she bolted towards the door.

“Wait!” I called out, and she stopped, her hand already on the doorknob and her back turned to me. She was shaking slightly, and I knew I could not abandon her. I cleared my throat. My voice sounded hoarse and alien as I gathered the courage to peek under the gauze safely covering the past wounds. “I… I didn’t. Not at first.”

Yumi turned around with such compassion written on her face that I hoped she knew the full extent to which it was mutual.

“Being with Shiori… uplifted me. I felt like I was transcending this world, leaving it behind, breaking free from it. The world became irrelevant, as were the words it had for people like us. No, there were no people like us. Shiori and I were all that existed. It was an illusion, of course. A beautiful reverie—dangerous, but enticing. Maybe I did wonder… In any case, I remember trying to read some books, but that didn’t help. I don’t exactly know why. Maybe I just did not want to identify. The ability of someone else to experience the same feelings would have anchored Shiori and me, and I didn’t want us to be tied to that,” I glanced outside in the general direction of the high school building.

“And after…?”

“For a few months, Shiori was all I could think about. At first, I was angry—with her for leaving and with myself for driving her away. Then it did not matter anymore. She was just gone, and that hurt bad enough. I needed something to live for and, since that something could no longer stem from within, I had to make myself worthy of other people’s love and hope that it would sustain me. When I started to notice other girls, it was a relief in a way. I could at least feel attraction. But… I don’t know. It was a mixed blessing at best.”

“Did you feel like you were betraying Shiori-san?”

I closed my eyes for a moment, barely holding myself together. “Yes, yes, I do.” Opening my eyes again, I discovered that Yumi was standing right in front of me, her arms half-extended as if she wanted to hug me, but was not sure how I would react. I made a feeble attempt at a smile, “Well, back to your original question… I wasn’t exactly surprised when I began feeling attracted to girls other than Shiori. It’s not like I haven’t considered the question of homosexuality before. It was just natural… and still more or less irrelevant despite—or maybe because of —her absence.”

That was it, the entire story. I slowly exhaled as if I had been holding my breath during my entire monologue and only now was permitted the use of fresh air. Yumi’s gaze wondered back to the red roses. It did not seem like she was going to say anything.

I hesitated a little, but then perhaps she needed a push. “Yumi-chan… I can only guess, of course, why you asked me to come here, but… I couldn’t help but wonder whether you might… have similar feelings.”

Her eyes widened a little as her gaze flew up to meet mine again. The role reversal was a bit jarring. Now she was the one who looked like a trapped animal, although in her reenactment, it was a frightened little raccoon instead of a deer. “You knew?!” she exclaimed.

I shook my head. “No, I didn’t. But I have to admit that I suspected… a little. It’s just that your whole life revolves around Sachiko. Of course, at an all-girls school, a certain level of ambient same-sex attraction is expectable—especially considering the peculiarities of our soeur system—,” Yumi shook her head adamantly. Apparently, she considered the soeur system an institution expressly designed to maintain the purity of the angelic maidens attending Lillian Academy. “But in the entire time that I have known you, you have never so much as looked at a guy with anything even approaching your admiration for Sachiko.”

Yumi blushed again and kept silent.

“So what brought you to this revelation?” I asked finally.

“Well, as you know, last month, we took a trip to Italy,” she glanced at me with something bordering on amusement, but I stoically held my own and solemnly nodded. “I really missed Sachiko-sama, and I wrote her that in a postcard, which Shizuka-sama sent for me.” I chuckled silently. Shizuka was an interesting choice of a courier. “Only, for some reason, I felt embarrassed about missing Sachiko-sama so much. Then a few days ago, Sachiko-sama called me aside. She got the postcard, and she said she missed me too… and she was also embarrassed.”

I waited for her to continue, but she just looked at me, smiling goofily at her memory. “And…?” I prompted.

“And I think I’m in love with her,” she said, turning bright crimson and gazing back at Rosa chinensis.

I could not help but laugh heartily. Yumi looked back at me and laughed, too, obviously relieved that the tension of the confession was over. Her light brown pigtails sparkled in the light of the setting sun, and the entire room seemed lit with warm orange glow.

Wiping away the tears the laughter brought to my eyes, I took Yumi’s hand in my own. “So why are you telling me this? Do you want me to give you a ‘go ahead’ in your pursuit of Sachiko?”

“Well, you are kind of my mentor,” she chuckled again.

“That’s true. I might eventually play a strict father and require her to ask me for your hand in marriage, you know.”

Yumi blushed, but laughed again. Then she paused for a moment before saying, “To tell you the truth, I don’t know myself why I decided to tell you this. It was just so… overwhelming. To realize that I am in love with Sachiko-sama, I mean. I just had to share it with someone…”

“And I seemed like the natural choice. Well, I’m really happy. And if you still care for it, you do have my ‘go ahead’.”

Yumi’s smile faded a little as she looked up at me sheepishly. “Do you think I have a chance? I mean, Sachiko-sama is known to be very strict about… such matters. On the other hand, she was fine around you so…”

“You know, Yumi-chan, I really have no idea. My gaydar is usually pretty fine-tuned, but with Sachiko, I am at a loss. But you know… I will tell you one thing, if there’s any chance at all that Sachiko will fall in love with a girl, it will definitely be you.”

She blushed again, and for a second her face, the sun and Rosa chinensis blossoms seemed to reflect each other’s brilliance.

“You know, there’s only one way to find out,” I continued. “Ask her. Tell her what you just told me about the epiphany you had due to that postcard. Tell her that you can’t live a day without thinking about her, that…”

“I love it when she looks into my eyes and calls my name, that I feel excited when she touches my shoulder, that seeing her after we’ve been apart makes me want to cry, hug her, and…,” cue the obligatory blush, “kiss her.”

“Something tells me you’ve already thought about what to say,” I smiled.

“But what if she doesn’t love me?”

“Yumi-chan, Sachiko does love you—perhaps not in the way that you love her, but she does love you. She won’t wish to hurt you. Of course, if she does reject you, it will hurt anyway, regardless of her intentions, so… I can’t tell you what to do. I’ll just say that being with Shiori was the happiest time of my life, and I miss her horribly.”

Yumi squeezed my hands lightly. “Thank you, Sei-sama. You really helped me today.”

“No problem,” I smiled feebly. “It’s my job as your senpai and a former Rosa.”

“No, thank you,” she said, as she looked straight into my eyes. I wanted to avert my gaze, but found that I could not. There was something in her face—her candor, perhaps—that left me unable to move. Had I really helped her that much? I thought back to reading countless books in search of a glimpse of resonance with my feelings for Shiori. Maybe Yumi sought the same thing from me.

“Well, shall we go, Sei-sama?” she finally broke our gaze.

“Yes, good. I really hate this greenhouse.”

“This is the second time you’ve said it.”

“Did I ever tell you that this is where I first realized that I am in love with Shiori?”

Yumi had started to turn the knob on the door, but now turned back to me with a slight frown on her face. “Then why do you hate it?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I guess it reminds me of losing her.”

“But weren’t you happy here?”

It is true that I was the happiest when I was with Shiori, but it was never unconditional happiness. Both of us knew that it had strict geographical limits, its maintenance only possible within the confines of the walls that kept us apart from other people. Shiori, of course, was also aware of the second, temporal, set of restrictions, but those were less immediate.

“Do you regret having fallen in love with her?” Yumi asked after a long pause.

I looked at Yumi and remembered her bright red face glowing with excitement over the discovery of her love for Sachiko. I remembered Shizuka’s expression the moment her resolve crushed any vestiges of fear and she stepped forward to declare her feelings. And then, finally, I allowed myself to remember Shiori leaning on my shoulder that rainy day, her breath coming in warm, gentle waves and reverberating in my heart. We were not wrong, and neither was the world. We were just on parallel paths destined never to intersect.

“No,” I said. “I really, truly don’t.”

“Good,” Yumi smiled. Then, hesitating for a second, she took my hand. “It’s time to leave.” She guided me onto the sunlit path leading to the front gate of Lillian Academy, and the greenhouse door slammed softly behind us.


“Sei-san, did you read our Modernist assignment for tomorrow yet?” Kei raised her eyebrows slightly, implying that she was sure I must have forgotten.

“No, of course not. After all, I need to maintain my reputation of being a rebel. What was the assignment again?”

“It’s easier if I just show you. Where is your textbook?”

“Dammit. I left it in the greenhouse. I guess now I’ll have to go back there for sure.”

“What were you doing with your textbook in a greenhouse?”

“Loooong story.”

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