The first thing she did when she was up and about the apartment was raid the cabinets where they kept the teabags. This told her a lot, like that Mireille must have drunk a phenomenal amount of tea while Kirika was at the Manor; the box of Chai green tea was particularly bare; and obviously Mireille had not gone grocery shopping at all since their separation.
But this cabinet, smelling faintly of spice, with boxes and teabags strewn haphazardly through its interior, reminded Kirika very strongly that she was home, this was real, and she was where she belonged. Everything suddenly became very solid around her and for the first time since they stepped off the plane, the earth came up under her feet. She was standing on firm ground.
She stepped back and turned to the stove, retracing the pattern burned into her mind. The old kettle rattled with pleasure as she carried it to the sink, welcoming the familiar touch of the apartment’s newly returned occupant. Filled to the brim with water on the stove burner, it gaze out a loud whistle—music to Kirika’s ears.
The pipes creaked from within the walls. She heard the shower going in the other room and knew that Mireille was trying to wash off more than just the accumulated dirt, sweat, and blood. Kirika had a sudden odd desire to leave the kitchen and join her, where she could just hold her, feeling their bodies fit snugly together, and the let the water wash over them.
The thought of being with Mireille anywhere warmed her heart and made her stomach flutter. Every touch, every brush of hands or shoulders, was electric, and made her feel fuller than ever. She wanted to be with Mireille.
So what disturbed her wasn’t that longing, but that’ she would never have imagined that two people bathing together meant anything—until Chloe. Before meeting Chloe she had been unable to put into words these odd aches and feelings that cropped up when she was around Mireille. At that time she was content merely to be beside Mireille. But in her time at the Manor with Chloe, suddenly everything had names, words for feelings, and “with you” meant more than just two people together.
“With you” mean hands. It meant skin and lips. It meant “kissing.”
It meant “love.”
As soon as she was with Mireille again she remembered all the words Chloe had taught her. “Love” . . . that was what she had been trying to say in her letter. That was the name of this feeling that she could only express in her touch and making tea for Mireille.
The box of Darjeeling was practically untouched, so she extracted two teabags from it and shuffled over to the next cabinet for mugs. As she stood and stared into the compartment she could hear the water shutting off, followed by the creak of the bathroom door. Moments later Mireille appeared in a bathrobe, her hair still wet and freshly combed straight down her back.
Perhaps both of them were struck by the comfortable familiarity of the scene. It was almost like before, settling into their usual routine as though nothing had changed. It was Kirika who broke the silence, asking, “Mireille, what happened to the mugs?” The cabinet was bare of Mireille’s usual assortment of different mugs.
Mireille blushed and coughed. “They, er—they broke,” she said, feigning nonchalance.
“Broke?” echoed Kirika. “All of them?”
“No.” Her reply hinted at indignation. She crossed over to the living room, the robe shifting with her movement to reveal a little more or less leg to a bewildered and increasingly flustered Kirika. It was nothing she hadn’t seen before; Mireille owned a variety of outfits selected to show off her figure. But every glimpse Kirika caught of her seemed new, and she felt starved of the sight of her Corsican partner.
Mireille picked up one mug from a corner of the pool table, and discovered another by her laptop. These she produced to Kirika to rinse and reuse. “We can buy more mugs,” she announced, her tone making it clear that the matter was closed to discussion. “Come to think of it, a real table would be nice.”
“The pool table’s fine.”
“Really? If we go shopping, we might as well buy some new stuff for the apartment. And you need clothes, don’t you?” Mireille’s face brightened at the prospect of clothes shopping.
It was nice to see her looking more like Mireille again. Kirika nodded and occupied herself scanning the cabinets again and compiling a mental shopping list. Tea . . . green tea . . . Earl Grey . . . lemon . . . raspberry . . . She wandered over to the fridge. Lettuce . . . milk . . . cheese . . . She noted that all of this had been here before she left, but very little of it had been consumed.
Mireille was tending to her ever-present plants in the window. With a sigh she picked one up and turned it around in her hands, saying sadly, “It’s dead. I guess I neglected it lately.”
Used teabags make good compost. Kirika recalled this vaguely from a magazine somewhere. “Maybe it got old,” she suggested.
Mireille laughed. “Animals get old, but I don’t know if plants do.”
The kettle rattled and began to whistle. Kirika took it off the burner and poured water into their mugs. She dunked each teabag twice and let them sit for a minute, steam escaping the surface in thin wisps.
“Thank you,” Mireille responded automatically when Kirika passed her a mug, and plopped down in her chair at the pool table, leaning forward for access to her laptop.
Kirika arranged the boxes of teabags carefully in the cabinet, reminding herself again what they needed to buy.
When she turned around she was caught by the look of calm concentration which Mireille fixed on her computer. She liked to think her Corsican partner had a softer heart than she cared to show, but her expression was every bit the look of a hardened professional. No matter how far away they drove themselves from their old job, she would probably never lose that.
“What are you thinking about?” Kirika asked softly, walking up to look over her shoulder.
Mireille looked up blankly. “What? Oh . . . I just thought I might sell some the land on my—my family’s old estate. It’s just sitting there, and I have no desire to return to it.”
Of course not. Neither did Kirika.
“I have enough inheritance to live comfortably for a while, so we won’t have to return to our old job.”
They hadn’t discussed it, but the unspoken agreement on living arrangements said that Kirika was staying, never mind what they had walked away from. Nor did either of them mention Mireille’s promise to Kirika, or whether it would come to pass.
“They shouldn’t have any reason to bother us again, either,” Mireille added, leaning forward and cupping her chin in one hand. She didn’t need to elaborate on who “they” were.
In the silence that followed Kirika found herself wondering how it was that she had never noticed . . . all these little things about Mireille that made her heart pound. Well, she noticed them, but she hadn’t understood her reactions before. Now she was right behind her and could see every lingering drop of water on her damp hair, and the golden hue of each strand. Mireille crossed her legs in the unconscious manner of a lady of a dignified background, and her posture spoke as much of a fine Corsican heiress as an independent woman of the new age. And even though she knew nothing about beauty beyond painting any sight that took her breath away, Kirika could easily say Mireille was beautiful.
She’s beautiful and I’m a killer. And I love her.
Mireille gasped when Kirika slid her arms around her shoulders and pressed against her back. “Kirika!” The Japanese girl buried her head in her hair, inhaling the cool scent of water and the fragrance of her shampoo. “What are you doing?”
“Mireille . . .”
“What is this?” She grabbed at Kirika’s hands, but she was in a compromising position, and ended up with her arms up like a criminal caught in the act, feeling Kirika’s fingers lacing through her own.
“Mireille,” Kirika said again, moving her head to rest on Mireille’s shoulder.
When she found her voice again, she said, “The letter . . . You . . .”
“Yes . . .” she agreed, closing her eyes.
“. . . Really?”
Kirika’s heart pounded in her chest. “Yes. Mireille, I . . .” She marveled at how easy it was. “I want to go shopping with you, and buy groceries, and eat dinner on the pool table, and make tea for you forever, Mireille.” My beloved Mireille. “Because I love you.”
Those words took the last of Kirika’s breath to say, and she felt everything go still waiting for Mireille’s answer. Whatever, say anything. Please just stay with me.
“Kirika . . .” The older woman squeezed her hands and gently moved them back to their original position resting against her breastbone. Her own hands fell over them with a trembling tenderness. “Thank you.”
Time would pass, and before they would go shopping again, Kirika would find out how much she had to learn, and that making tea was only one of many ways she had never known to say, “I love you” to Mireille.