From the Ashes
It seemed to Shiori that the entire campus had changed over night. Even the
colors were different. They weren't as bright, didn't shine like they once
had. On the other hand, everything seemed more in focus, as if a shimmering
veil had been lifted.
Shiori was trying hard to be happy, really she was. She had joined the
fencing team and practiced diligently every day. She wasn't nearly as good
as Juri, though. No one was as good as Juri.
She had been late to practice today. It hadn't been her fault! That horrid
teacher with the strange glasses and the riding crop had stopped her to
lecture her about her inattention during class.
Juri hadn't scolded her when she came in late. She hadn't even glanced at
her. It infuriated Shiori.
Look at me, she thought furiously. I know you love me; why
pretend that you don't?
Shiori wondered how she ever could have missed it. It was as if the same
veil that had been lifted off the campus had also left Shiori's eyes clear.
And what should I do now that I know? She wondered. Shall I rip
your heart out and hold it my hand while you bleed? You're so lovely when
you're hurt, after all.
Just a few weeks ago, the idea would have filled Shiori with joy, but
now.she just felt confused.
Juri's command tore Shiori from her thoughts. Somehow, it was her turn
already. "Ah, yes!" she responded nervously.
The match was over almost instantly. No one could beat Juri, least of all
Shiori. Juri nodded appraisingly. "Your stance is improving, but you need
to improve your lunges. Don't be so hesitant. And relax. The foil isn't
going to bite you." She smiled a little when she said that, and Shiori
wondered if Juri had let her defenses down recently, or if her best
friend/worse enemy had always been so obvious.
She nodded. "Thank you, Juri-san." And that was all. Juri turned away and
shouted "Next!" and Shiori faded into the background.
Weeks passed, and Shiori tried to be content; did her best to ignore
feelings gnawing at her heart. She still practiced every day, she still
lost every bout she fought with Juri, and Juri still looked at her with
those longing eyes, but almost never spoke to her outside of practice.
Shiori hated it. It was that, along with the fact that she was tired of
practicing yet never improving, that compelled her to ask Juri for extra
help after everyone else had left the fencing hall. Juri's eyes widened
just a bit.
"I'm.not sure that that would be a good idea."
But Shiori wasn't going to give up so easily. She looked at Juri
imploringly. "Please, Juri-san."
That did it; all of Juri's resistance crumbled. She sighed in resignation.
"All right," she said. "Meet me here tomorrow at seven exactly." She
managed a glare. "Don't be late."
Even Juri's sharpness couldn't keep the smile from Shiori's face. "Thank
Shiori's excitement had faded by the next day. Instead, she felt as if she
had swallowed hot coals. She couldn't pay attention in class, and the
teacher's comments had the whole class laughing at her.
She hated them. She hated them all. Everyone was mocking her, even Juri.
No. Juri never laughed at her. She shouldn't think like that. She wanted
to be Juri's friend, didn't she? A real friend, not the strange and
unhealthy relationship that they had shared for all these years.
Shiori arrived at the fencing hall at 6:45, only to find Juri already there.
She was practicing, and, oh god, she looked beautiful. She was control and
Shiori didn't know how long she stood there watching before Juri turned her
head and saw her. All of the confidence left her eyes.
"Put on your gear, and we'll begin."
Juri was a good teacher: patient, with a discerning eye, but Shiori was
awkward, and had difficulty imitating the stances of her more experienced
friend. Finally, Juri sighed and grasped Shiori's wrist in one hand, and
put her other hand around Shiori's waist. Shiori's breath hitched, and Juri
tensed, just realizing what she had done.
They simply stood there for a moment. Shiori could hear Juri's shallow
It would be so easy to break Juri right now, to pull away with a friendly
smile and a "playful" comment about perversion. Shiori's considered it.and
found that she didn't want to.
Finally, Juri cleared her throat. "You should hold the foil like this, and
hold your body like that. Do you understand?"
Shiori nodded and looked Juri in the eye. "Yes, I think I do."
They didn't practice for very long after that.
When Shiori got back to her room, she took off all of her clothes and stood
naked in front of the full-length mirror. What she saw disgusted her: the
small, unimpressive breasts, the stretch marks on her thighs left over from
growth spurts; she was horrid looking.
What does she see in me?
Her roommate, Rika, who Shiori thought was asleep, suddenly turned her head.
"Gawd, Shiori, put some clothes on."
Shiori glared at her. "I don't have anything that you haven't seen."
"That doesn't mean I want to look at naked girls. Do you think I'm a dyke
Shiori flinched. "Fine, fine," she muttered while putting on her nightgown.
She crawled into bed, but found herself unable to sleep. Rika's comment
kept echoing in her head: "Do you think I'm a dyke or something?" It was a
long time before she was able to nod off.
The next evening, she walked to the fencing hall nervously, unsure whether
or not Juri would even be there.
Indeed she was, looking as regal and statuesque as always. Shiori bit her
lip. It was a nervous habit that she had had for years. "Hello, Juri-san."
Juri looked at her, eyes cold. Clearly, she was going to pretend that
yesterday had never happened. Shiori could deal with that.
The practice was uneventful aside from Juri's slight smile and comments on
Shiori's improvement. Shiori wondered if this would be their new pattern, a
new rut to fall into. Would they spend the rest of their days like this,
coming so close, but never truly meeting?
As they were putting the equipment away, Shiori was struck with an idea.
Knowing that she would panic if she thought about it too much, she blurted
out, "Juri-san, would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow?"
Juri's surprise was easy to miss, but definitely there. "I don't think that
that would be a very good idea, Shiori."
But now that she had actually asked, Shiori wasn't willing to take no for an
answer. She remembered what had worked well before, and looked at Juri
entreatingly. "Please, Juri-san? As a favor to me?"
Juri froze for a split second. Then she shook her head, but said, "What
time would you like me there?"
Shiori smiled awkwardly. "Around eight?"
Juri nodded. "All right."
They parted, and Shiori raced back to her dorm, both excited and terrified.
She slammed the door when she came in, and Rika sat up in bed. "Some people
are trying to sleep, you know?" she said, annoyed.
"Rika," Shiori said, her voice intense, "why don't you spend tomorrow night
Rika frowned. "And why should I break school rules for you?" She smirked.
"Do you have company?"
"No!" Shiori exclaimed. Then she blushed. "Well, yes, but not like that.
She's an old friend, and I'd like the opportunity to talk with her
Rika shrugged. "All right, whatever. Turn out the lights, will you? I'm
trying to sleep."
Shiori was glad that Rika could sleep, because she certainly couldn't. Her
mind was racing, trying to figure out what to do tomorrow. Should she order
take-out, or should they go out to a restaurant? It should probably be a
restaurant. Take-out was too cheap and simple. Juri deserved better than
that. But could she get a table at a nice restaurant without a reservation?
She would have to try.
Shiori was so worried that she didn't think she'd ever get to sleep, but she
must have, because the next thing she knew, there was sunlight streaming
through the windows and Rika was nowhere to be seen.
Shiori was immensely relieved that it was Sunday, because there was no way
she could have concentrated on school today.
She pulled out the phonebook and began to search through the restaurant
section. She found several names that she recognized as being both very
good and very well known and wrote the numbers down. However, she was
dismayed to find that every restaurant she called told her in no uncertain
terms that she would have had to make a reservation weeks, or even months,
in advance. One person even laughed at her! Shiori put down the phone,
feeling sick. She was always messing up, always embarrassing herself. Juri
would laugh at her.
Except, Shiori knew that Juri wouldn't laugh. Juri had never laughed at
her. Shiori sighed. If she had to take Juri out for cheap food, then she
would. Curry might work.
Putting the restaurant problem out of her mind for the moment, Shiori opened
her closet. She shouldn't wear anything too fancy-she wouldn't want to look
out of place. Of course, she couldn't look sloppy, especially knowing that
Juri would be looking perfect no matter what. She must have tried on
fifteen different outfits (people were always telling her that she owned too
many clothes, and Rika was constantly complaining about the lack of closet
space), but she finally decided on a simple skirt and blouse ensemble, with
a pair of nice sandals. The weather was a bit chilly for the outfit, but
Shiori decided that she didn't care.
She spent the rest of the day cleaning the dorm. She would just die of
embarrassment if Juri came over and found the room messy.
She finished with very little time to spare, and was just finishing putting
on her makeup when she heard a knock at the door. A shot of panic went
through her, and she almost decided not to open the door. She shook the
feeling off, and tried to look calm and composed as she opened the door.
Juri looked perfect, just as Shiori knew she would. For a moment they
simply looked at each other. Then, Juri smiled faintly. "You look very
nice," she said.
And there it was again: that slightly soft look that only Shiori ever
Shiori looked Juri over, and her eye was drawn to a simple but lovely silver
choker around her neck. "That's very pretty," Shiori said, pointing to it.
"Where did you get it?"
Juri looked at the choker as if just noticing that she was wearing it. "It
was a thank you present after I did some modeling."
Shiori forced a smile. "Oh, that's nice." Inside, she seethed with
jealousy. She had heard people mention that Juri was a model, but to
actually hear Juri say it was beyond agonizing.
Juri was beautiful; Juri was graceful. She was elegant, and composed, and
everything Shiori wasn't. It just wasn't fair.
Juri's voice pulled Shiori back to reality. "Sorry, Juri-san, I was just
thinking." She tried to brighten. "Well, I guess we should go." She
looked at the ground. "I hope you like curry."
Juri nodded. "I love curry."
Shiori felt a wave of relief wash through her, though she did wonder if Juri
really did like curry, or if she was simply trying to spare Shiori's
The restaurant Shiori had chosen was an easy walk. The two young women
talked very little, and only about inconsequential things, such as school.
Shiori was very glad to see that restaurant wasn't very crowded, and she and
Juri had no trouble finding a table. They sat in silence for a while, and
it was only after a waiter had taken their orders and left that Shiori
worked up the nerve to speak.
"Thank you for coming, Juri-san."
Juri looked a little surprised by the sudden conversation. "It was no
trouble," she said simply.
Shiori decided that she should keep the conversation going. She wouldn't
make much progress rebuilding her relationship with Juri if they just sat in
silence the whole evening.
"Juri-san, am I getting any better at fencing?"
Juri thought for a moment before answering. "Yes. Your main problem is
nerves. You need to learn to relax."
Shiori smiled awkwardly. "It's just, I watch you, and you're so good at
"I've been practicing for years. You've just started. Don't compare
yourself to me."
But I can't help it, Shiori thought bitterly. Comparing myself to
you is all that I know how to do.
The two of them fell silent when the waiter appeared with their food.
Shiori pretended to concentrate fully on her hamburger curry, finding that
easier than talking to Juri.
The meal passed in silence until the bill came. Juri reached for it, but
Shiori stopped her. "I invited you, didn't I?" she pointed out with a
"It's no trouble for me to-"
"Juri-san," Shiori said, softly but firmly. "Let me pay." Juri relented
reluctantly, and Shiori held back a sigh. Why did Juri always insist on
treating her as someone who couldn't take care of herself?
The walk back was awkward. Shiori wanted to kick something. This wasn't
how things were supposed to go! When they reached Shiori's dorm building,
Juri turned to go, but Shiori stopped her. "Would you like to come in for
coffee? Or tea?"
Juri looked at her coldly. "I don't think that that would be a good idea.
It's late, and we have school tomorrow."
Shiori bit her lip (she should stop doing that, she told herself).
Juri wouldn't meet Shiori's eyes. "Maybe." Then she turned brusquely and
walked away without looking back.
Shiori walked to her dorm not sure whether to feel happy or sad. Dinner
hadn't been a disaster, but neither had it been the reconciliation some
secret, hopeful part of her had wished for. The whole thing, Shiori
decided, had felt like an awkward first date.
Shiori didn't like that thought at all. After all, she didn't want to date
Juri. She didn't even want to think about dating Juri. It was gross, and
weird, and not normal. It was all well and good for someone like
Juri to be not normal. She was pretty enough, interesting enough,
special enough to not be normal. Shiori wasn't like that.
Shiori realized that she had reached her room and had been standing in front
of the door for who knew how long. Sheepishly, she opened the door. Rika
looked up from her murder mystery. "Did you have a good time on your date?"
She asked slyly.
Shiori scowled. "It wasn't a date!" She snapped.
Rika shrugged. "It was just a joke. No need to bite my head off."
"Sorry," Shiori muttered.
"Don't worry about it. Are you going to bed?"
"Turn off the light then, will you?"
Shiori began to undress, folding each article of clothing before placing it
in the laundry. When she was younger, she had simply tossed the clothing in
the basket, but the first time she had spent the night at Juri's, she had
seen her friend fold the clothes first and had resolved to do it the same
After putting on her nightgown, she snuggled into her covers and tried to
fall asleep. She soon realized that it was futile. The evening kept
replaying in her head. She examined everything that she had said, cursing
how stupid she must have sounded. She considered all the comments that Juri
had made, trying to unearth their hidden meaning.
Sleep overcame her just as she was beginning to worry about having tea
The next day Shiori put all of her willpower into concentrating on school.
The end of the semester was coming up, and Juri's grades would be no less
than perfect. Shiori didn't have a chance of achieving that, but she didn't
want to be humiliated.
As soon as class was over, Shiori rushed back to her dorm. She raced
through the rooms, trying to tidy them. She went through the teas half a
dozen times, wondering if Juri would consider herself too good for them.
(She knew that she was being ridiculous. Juri would like whatever Shiori
Shiori was dusting for the second time when she heard Rika come in.
"Shiori, what in the world are you doing?"
"I'm cleaning. I have a friend coming over."
"Is this the same friend as before?"
"You are so weird."
Shiori bit her lip (she should stop before she chapped her lips). "Rika,
would you mind staying at Kenji's again tonight?"
Rika stared at her. "Jeez, Shiori, are you that embarrassed by me?"
"No! It's just that Juri-san-"
"Juri-san?!" Exclaimed Rika. "As in Ice Queen Arisugawa?" She giggled.
"What could she possibly see in you?"
"What are you talking about?" Shiori demanded. Tears pricked at her eyes.
She had asked herself the same question a thousand times, but hearing it
from someone else enraged her.
"Look, Shiori, there's nothing wrong with you. But Arisugawa-san is way out
of your league."
"For your information," Shiori replied, her voice glacial, "we've been best
friends for years." Rika's smirk told Shiori just what her roommate thought
of that claim. Shiori stood up. "There's no reason for me to deal
with this." She stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
She didn't start crying until she was outside. She wandered aimlessly, not
caring where she went. Despite that, she was forced to admit that maybe her
subconscious had had a specific destination in mind when she found herself
in front of the fountain where she had met Tsuchiya-sempai so many times.
(Or was it only once? Those few days were fuzzy in Shiori's mind.) She sat
on the edge of the fountain and prepared to feel very sorry for herself.
Oh no. Shiori didn't want to look up, but it was if her head was being
controlled by invisible wires.
"Oh, hello, Juri-san."
Juri looked alarmed. "Shiori, what's wrong?"
"Don't be ridiculous. You're crying." Juri paused, then spoke again.
"Come back to my place."
Shiori wanted to turn her head and sulk for the rest of the evening.
Instead, she felt the invisible wires again as they drew her up until she
She and Juri walked side by side, not speaking. It wasn't until Shiori was
sitting on Juri's couch that she finally spoke. "This is a really big room.
Do you have a roommate?"
"Oh. I do."
"Shiori." Juri began, but trailed off. "Would you like some tea?" She said
Shiori nodded, then stood up. "Thank you, Juri-san, for being so kind."
She brushed her hand against Juri's, then blinked in surprise as Juri
"Shiori, what are you doing?"
Shiori took a deep breath and stood up. She walked over to Juri, slowly, as
if trying not to spook a wild animal, and caressed her friend's cheek.
(Something about the gesture felt so familiar.)
"Why do you bother with the mask?" Shiori whispered. "I can see right
She wasn't sure if she kissed Juri or if Juri kissed her, but they were
kissing--hungrily, desperately, as years of pent up longing were released in
a frantic burst.
Shiori had never been so terrified in her entire life. She was kissing
Juri! She was kissing Juri, and she still couldn't stop feeling inferior:
she wasn't kissing as firmly as Juri, her lips weren't as soft as Juri's,
she couldn't use her tongue to send electric sparks through a person's body
like Juri could.
Shiori might have continued in this manner indefinitely, but her thoughts
were interrupted when Juri's hands brushed against her breasts. Shiori
gasped and pushed herself against Juri. Then her eyes widened as she
realized what she had done. She leapt back. Juri did the same. They
stared at each other, wary and alarmed. There was too much going unsaid,
too many questions not being asked.
"What do you want Shiori?" Juri's voice was rough.
Shiori was tempted to turn the question back on the other young woman, but
refrained. That wouldn't solve anything. Finally she breathed deeply and
looked Juri in the eyes. "I'm not leaving tonight." Without another word,
she strode to the bedroom. She walked quickly, knowing that if she slowed
down for even a moment, she would bolt out the door and never return.
She heard Juri's footsteps following hesitantly behind her, but she didn't
dare look back, illogically worrying that it would cause Juri, her Eurydice,
to disappear. It wasn't until she was sitting on Juri's bed, taking off her
uniform, that she dared look at Juri.
"You could sit down too," she said with an uncomfortable smile. Juri sat
down mechanically. A thought occurred to Shiori.but.surely not.
"Juri-san," she ventured cautiously, "is this the first time you've."
Juri sat rigidly for a long moment before nodding curtly.
Shiori giggled nervously. "Uh, well, it's not hard. I mean, I haven't done
it very often, just once, and that was with. A boy, but I guess we can learn
Juri looked at her, and then began to gently undo the buttons on Shiori's
blouse, awkwardly at first, then more quickly. Once the shirt was
unbuttoned, Juri tossed it aside and slid Shiori's skirt off. Shiori gasped
at the sudden chill. She eyed Juri's uniform. "Why am I the only one
naked?" She asked, trying not to sound petulant. Juri grimaced and quickly
removed her uniform. Her expression was stoic and her movements mechanical,
as if she was doing a particularly distasteful job. However, once she was
undressed, she pulled Shiori to her with unexpected ferocity.
The sex was messy, awkward, exciting, frightening, and Shiori had never felt
so free. Lying together in the afterglow, she finally felt able to say
something that she had been holding in for years.
"Juri-san. I really hate you, all right?"
Juri started to pet Shiori's hair. "That's fine. I hate you too."
Shiori sighed in relief and rested her head on Juri's breasts. "Just as
long as we're clear on that," she murmured contentedly.
It wasn't as if everything was fixed, or that any of this was going to be
easy. However, for what seemed like the first time in her life, Shiori
could breathe freely.