Out of Reach
Youko unwillingly drummed out the beat of a Mendelssohn symphony with the fingers of her right hand. Her desk was cluttered with various papers both for the classes and for the Yamayurikai, and the pages of the Japanese history textbook lay open and undecipherable before her. She seemed unable to concentrate this evening, her mind inevitably bringing her back to the events of the afternoon. Since that first time in elementary school when Youko had gotten the highest test scores in her entire grade, she had been hailed as a genius, completely dependable and infallible in her decisions and actions. But this time, she could not help but wonder whether she had made an irreparable mistake.
That afternoon seemed no different from all others. As usual, after finishing her cleaning duty, Youko went straight to the Rose Mansion. The third-year Roses were busy preparing for the college entrance exams. Even the upcoming winter vacation promised not so much a respite from their worries as an opportunity for extra studying. The Roses usually met in the library after classes, showing example to the other students with their utmost diligence. Rei was busy preparing for a tournament that would be held right after the winter break, while Sachiko was gloomy around the holidays because of her difficult family situation. Finally, the other two Boutons expressed next to no interest in the affairs of the Yamayurikai, so Youko had little hope that they would arrive early (or, in Sei’s case, at all). Consequently, she was surprised when, having opened the biscuit-like door of the second-floor council room, she discovered two people already sitting at the meeting table.
“Gokigenyou,” she called out to her fellow members of the Yamayurikai.
“Gokigenyou, Youko-chan,” slightly raising her head, Rosa Gigantea echoed.
Sei, slumping in the chair next to her onee-sama, not only did not reply to the greeting, but did not even look up. Her very countenance emanated an air of gloom, and Youko felt herself cringe. She had not meant for this to happen.
“I found her wondering aimlessly around the campus and thought to bring her back here before she gets sucked into the whirlpool of her own depression and disappears forever,” Rosa Gigantea explained conversationally.
Youko gazed at the upperclassman in complete awe. Taking the Rose’s lead, she tried her best to don a cheerful smile as she plopped down on her usual chair. Sei still had not looked up.
“The post-exam break was so relaxing, wasn’t it, Rosa Gigantea?” Youko thought that it was a safe enough topic. “How nice to put all the worries to rest, even just for a little while.”
Rosa Gigantea smiled and nodded her approval of Youko’s tactics. “Yes, although knowing you, Youko-chan, even the exam time probably wasn’t particularly stressful.”
“How about you, Sei?” Youko then turned to her friend. “How was your break?”
Sei finally, begrudgingly raised her gaze from the table, and a dark smile touched the corner of her lips. “My mother and I were called to the headmistress’s office, where we were informed about the dire effects of my now nonexistent relationship with Shiori on my grades.” Having said this, she turned away and gazed out the window.
Youko exchanged a glance with Rosa Gigantea, realizing that they were both terribly worried.
“Well, what’s happening with your grades, Sei?” Rosa Gigantea said cautiously. “I’m only asking to figure out a way to prevent the headmistress from ever calling you out there again.”
“Nothing,” Sei replied. Youko found her behavior odd. The usual Sei would have started kicking and screaming as soon as someone tried to interfere with her business. This Sei, however, answered gloomily to every question, as if she was too tired to fight anymore. “I got bad scores on the end-of-semester exams, but it will never happen again. I am going to get back into studying so as not to cause Shiori any more problems.”
“You mean Shiori-san was also called to the headmistress’s office?” Youko could not hold back her questions. “And? What happened?”
“How should I know?” Sei sent Youko an icy glare, but even this remark was low and bitter rather than snappy and sarcastic as usual. “We don’t see each other anymore, remember? I thought this is what you wanted.”
Youko felt her whole body recoil. No, this was definitely not what she wanted.
“Sei, come down,” Rosa Gigantea said, sending an apologetic glance in Youko’s direction. “I think this is very important for both you and Shiori-san. What exactly does the school administration know about your relationship?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Sei got up and walked to the window, as if wishing that she could just fly away.
“Yes, it does matter,” Rosa Gigantea pressed gently. “This is a Catholic school, Sei. It could have consequences.”
Sei turned around, and some emotion finally registered on her face. “Don’t you see? I can’t discuss this with you,” she whispered, and Youko realized in complete shock that Sei was barely holding back tears. “I can’t. For me, it’s not just a problem that needs a solution. I don’t give a damn about the school. You don’t understand—or maybe you just don’t want to understand, and I can’t—can’t—can’t explain in to you.”
It was as if Sei’s words put a spell on each of them for a moment, as all three were carried away on a current of their own thoughts. If somebody walks into the room right now, Youko noted randomly in her mind, they would think that we turned into statues, forever frozen in time. Finally, Sei broke the silence with a tense whisper, “May I be excused?”
Rosa Gigantea got up and tried to reach out for her, but Sei repeated, this time with a little more force, “May I be excused, onee-sama?”
“Alright. You may go,” Rosa Gigantea lowered her head.
Youko did not turn around, but she could hear the thud of the door followed by the pounding of Sei’s feet as her friend ran down the stairs.
Youko carefully inserted an elegant red bookmark—the Christmas present she recently received from Sachiko—between the pages of the history text and set the book aside. The semester exams being over, studying could wait, although she rarely gave in to such considerations. Something was gnawing at her. Youko sighed and rested her head on her hands for a second. Then she got up, lay down on her bed, and closed her eyes. There was no easy way out. Sleep would not come. Youko opened her eyes again and for a few more minutes just lay there, staring at the ceiling, before the realization finally hit her. The feeling she experienced had a name, and it was guilt. Quickly rising from bed, Youko resumed her place at the table, and found a clear piece of paper.
Dear Sei, I do understand—or at least I think that I do. But I am not like Rosa Gigantea. I cannot express my understanding as well as she does, although, judging from what happened today, you do not believe even her. To be honest, I really was confused in the beginning. I could not understand how you could have such feelings for a girl. And if I, while considering myself to be your friend, have problems accepting you as you are, what would happen when other people enter the picture? Of course, I know that you claim not to care, but is that carelessness truly independent of the world’s opinion? Or is it simply the product of the judgment you are expecting? In any case, students, at least, would not dare to say anything straight to your face, as long as you are Rosa Gigantea en Bouton. I, on the other hand, do overhear what they say, and it is not all complimentary. It was easier for me to try to dissuade you, to prevent you from getting too close to Shiori-san, but perhaps my fear of you being hurt by the world—however great it truly is—was really just an excuse.
I am berating myself now, as I did then. I never considered myself a bigot and, of course, I have learned before of the existence of gay people, even though I did not think that one of my closest friends would turn out to be homosexual. Love is love, I am telling myself. And it really is love, is it not? We have talked about it for so long—talked around it really—but we have never called it that. This is what you were trying to tell us this afternoon, is not it? Rosa Gigantea and I wanted to help you with your feelings without truly understanding them. You are right. I do not understand your feelings. Attending an all-girls school and rarely even talking to young men our age, I have never fallen in love, so how can I possibly council you about it? For me, love seems to be this great, wonderful, and completely mysterious force, but I do at least understand that it cannot be simply turned off the way I advised you to do. Perhaps, I should have listened to you from the very beginning—it really was none of my business.
Actually, my guilt is also clouding my judgment. I made your affairs my business precisely because I did not want to see you hurt. If I had not told you about Shiori-san when I did, you would have been happy still, but that happiness could not have possibly lasted forever, because eventually you would have discovered the truth anyway. I do think that what I did was wrong, however, even though in the long term, it would not have made a difference. Instead of criticizing you, I should have supported you. I should have given you and Shiori-san my blessing, no matter how much it hurt me to give you up. This way, you would have known that you can rely on me to always be there for you. I really care about you, Sei, and I do not want to see you so hurt.
Not giving herself time to think, Youko sealed the letter in an envelope, wrote down Sei’s name in neat hiragana, and placed the envelope into her schoolbag.
Youko had been standing at the door of the Wisteria Group Second Year classroom for a while now. Afraid to miss Sei, she had hurried there as soon as the classes were over, but she should not have worried. Without meetings with Shiori as an incentive to leave as early as possible, Sei took her time getting her things in order. The classroom life churned all around her, with girls chatting, giggling, and banging their schoolbags on the desks in the hurry to scatter to various clubs and activities, but Sei seemed like an island in the sea of motion—not even a lush paradise, but one of those rocky islands that stick out like stony teeth in the midst of clear ocean.
Finally, clutching the envelope in her hand, Youko gathered the courage to walk up to her friend’s desk. It took Sei about a minute to raise her head. She probably figured that whoever it was would lose patience and leave, feeling disappointed when the trick failed to produce the expected result. When Sei did see Youko, her eyes immediately narrowed in hostility, “What do you want from me?”
Youko was taken aback, “I don’t want anything. Why would I?”
Her face probably showed the astonishment she truly felt, because Sei’s expression softened as she said, “I’m sorry. I’m being mean. It’s just so difficult to know what to do lately. Somehow, it all turns out to be wrong.” Sei turned away and stared at the window.
As the silence descended upon them, Youko clutched the envelope even tighter. Sei did not need to read about her feelings. The letter was a mistake, a futile attempt to assuage the guilt, while her friend had much more important things to think about in her own search for solace. Some day, perhaps, they might talk about this heart-to-heart, but that time had not yet come.
“Well, what did you want to say to me then?” her friend finally turned around with a wry smile. “I doubt that even you would come all this way just to check up on me.”
Youko smiled as cheerfully as she could. “The Yamayurikai is holding a Christmas party today at five. I hope that you’ll come. Rei-chan baked delicious cookies. That alone makes it worth going.”
“I’ll come if I feel like it,” Sei tossed her book bag over her shoulder and gave a nonchalant wave in Youko’s direction. Youko stared at her friend’s retreating back and crumpled the letter in her hands.