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[Fanfic] [Karekano] [Yuri-lime] From the Diary of Amy Bellette

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  • Paul Richard Corrigan
    To the Yuricon list: I am a fanfic author currently working mostly on Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo (His and Her Circumstances/ Karekano ) fanfiction. Included in
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 20, 2003
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      To the Yuricon list:

      I am a fanfic author currently working mostly on Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo (His
      and Her Circumstances/"Karekano") fanfiction. Included in this e-mail is what I
      have of my latest project.

      This isn't quite my first shojo-ai fic (I wrote an Utena/Anthy fic titled
      "Letter to my Prince" some years ago), and there's more to the fic than the
      yuri, but this is the first I've tried to do realistically (and certainly as
      graphically). As such, I'm painfully aware of its shortcomings. My protagonist,
      Aya Sawada, sounds in my own ears more like an Irish Catholic boy (viz. me)
      rather than the Japanese Catholic (and so heavily closeted) lesbian I wanted
      her to be.

      Perhaps the readers on this list more knowledgeable on such things will be
      more forgiving of my efforts than I am (I don't know), but the point is I
      desperately need input on how well or (more likely) badly I've described female
      (esp. homosexual) thought patterns, and how I can improve on what I have in
      that department (if the whole project isn't already beyond human aid).

      Aid from list members who have a working knowledge of the Karekano series
      would be particularly appreciated, but comments from anyone with a working
      knowledge of Aya's situation (is that word too harsh?--excuse me) are welcome,
      because it's that sort of knowledge I need. If a commentator needs detailed
      background info. on a character, situation, or something else, I'll cheerfully
      oblige. For now, a very brief dramatis personae of the Karekano characters
      with speaking parts, in no particular order:

      Aya Sawada: Senior at Hokuei High School. Budding author, with at least one
      book in print.

      Rika Sena: Aya's classmate and friend from childhood. Extremely feminine.

      Tsubaki Sakura: Another classmate. Volleyball whiz. Extremely butch. However,
      this is at least partly a pose (she's dating a boy, and has no real female love
      interests).

      Tsubasa Shibahime: Yet another. Extremely childish.

      Yukino Miyazawa: A girl from another senior homeroom. Queen of campus. A
      recovering poser, dedicated with her boyfriend Soichiro Arima to "living as her
      true self." Protagonist of Karekano.

      Kano Miyazawa: Yukino's sister. Freshman at Hokuei. Aya's protege.

      Maho Isawa: Yukino's classmate, sometime rival and now best friend. She and
      Yukino have shojo-ai possibilities, too, but those I'll leave for another day.
      ;)

      Kyo Sawada: Aya's brother. The only serious (male) contender for Rika's
      affection.

      Thank you for your time and help.

      Paul Corrigan
      corrig11@...

      --cut here--

      On Being Asked for a War Poem

      I think it better that in times like these
      A poet keep his mouth shut, for in truth
      We have no gift to set a statesman right;
      He has had enough of meddling who can please
      A young girl in the indolence of her youth,
      Or an old man upon a winter's night.

      W. B. Yeats

      (Beloved of all good Irishmen, as well as Hotaru Tomoe, aka Sailor Saturn.
      But that is another story, and shall be told another day.)

      ---

      In the year 2003 AD the Babylonian Empire lay in ruins, mourned by none
      but scoundrels and knaves. Anarchy ruled the land, with armed men pillaging
      and ravaging, ravaging and pillaging, and basically trashing everything in
      sight. Ancient centers of learning were ransacked of ancient artifacts, with
      or without magical powers. Foreigners roamed the streets, many from Crawford,
      Texas...

      Okay, I'm stopping that right there. It's silly. Even if it weren't, I'm
      not qualified to write a story like that anyway. What do I know about war?

      Try again.

      ---
      From the Diary of Amy Bellette
      ---
      A _Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo_ ("Karekano") fanfic by Paul Corrigan
      ---
      _Karekano_ concept devised by Masami Tsuda
      ---

      Mom and Dad were a match made in hell, in retrospect. I'd have been glad
      of anything that kept them from drifting apart any more than they already
      have. But did it have to be this they had in common?

      He, the Communist who didn't think Kim Jong Il could be that bad a guy,
      opposed the war because America was for it. Mom was against it because she
      was a good Catholic and the pope was against it, and she wasn't about to
      second-guess the pope. So of course on February 14, they both agreed they
      wanted to go to an antiwar rally, out in Shibuya of all places. Kyo, being
      older and wiser, had found an excuse to be elsewhere that evening, so Mom and
      Dad insisted I go too.

      "No."

      "How can you be so self-centered at a time like this? The world's at the
      mercy of a maniac and we have to stop..."

      "I know, Dad. You've only told me the president of America's a religious
      maniac a hundred times already. I don't know how standing in the cold in
      Shibuya's gonna make him sane all of a sudden. I still have college exams to
      take, and an article to write, and homework. I reckon if Dubya's determined
      to blow us all to kingdom come, I don't want to die without getting into
      college, so I think I'll stay home and get some real work done, okay?"

      "Aya, I actually don't mind if you take a break for something like
      this."

      "Mom, I'll just be in the way. Nobody cares what schoolgirls think anyway.
      Look, you two go and make yourselves heard, and I'll let you know if you get
      on TV, okay? Heck, it's Valentine's. Don't you want some time to yourselves?"

      "Suit yourself," said Mom. She actually seemed all right about it, but Dad
      just gave me a look like he'd hold me personally responsible if Tokyo was
      bombed that very night. I hate having a socially aware father.

      So off they went, and as they went out the door I said, "Bye kids! Don't
      you get yourselves arrested now!" Just to piss off Dad. Dad boasts about how
      he got arrested at rallies back in the day, whenever anyone gives him an
      excuse, or even when they don't. You ask him what he did at work, or about me
      going to college, or something else that actually matters in real life now,
      and he doesn't want to discuss it.

      The rally did get on TV when I checked. About 6,000. They sang "Imagine"
      and "Give Peace a Chance." Sounded like a John Lennon tribute out there. I
      didn't see Mom and Dad on the TV; I didn't see a lot of people my age either,
      and the report said it was mostly middle-aged folks. I'd bet anything a lot
      of them just wanted an excuse to feel young again. "You say you want a
      Revolution..."

      They didn't come home that night; Dad called at an ungodly hour to say
      they'd be getting a hotel in Shibuya. Sounded drunk to me. Figures. It was
      Valentine's after all.

      Tell you this, he didn't sound like someone who was terribly concerned
      about this war he'd been ranting on about now for months. Nice to know I'm
      not the only self-centered one out there.

      ---

      Actually, it's not very nice, but at least I'm not the only one.

      Still and all...(As Grandmother would say, may she rest in peace.)

      (Hold that thought.)

      ---

      So while Mom and Dad were off trying to save the world and what remained
      of their relationship (not necessarily in that order) I was trying to write
      my "article." Speech, rather.

      Okay, I can see why George W. Bush, President of the USA, needs a
      speechwriter. He's got other stuff going on. Why Yukino Miyazawa, president
      of the student body of Hokuei High School, Kawasaki, Kanagawa, needs a
      speechwriter is a mystery to me.

      (Oh, that's right--she's aiming for Tokyo University, along with her
      honey, so she has more studying to do than me. Yukinon's got to be deluding
      herself if she think's she's going to marry that guy. There's got to be
      plenty of other guys at Todai or Waseda or Meiji or wherever the heck she
      goes that are just as smart, well connected and handsome as Soichiro Arima.
      And saner to boot. The more I hear about the guy from Yukino, the more he
      scares me, no matter how nice she spins it. A freaking obsessive. I actually
      think she's tired of him too, not enough to dump him right now, maybe, but
      she'll try to shake him off as soon as something of comparable quality comes
      along. I'll bet anything forty years from now she'll be Prime Minister,
      elected just in time to lead Japan's human beings in their civil war against
      their robot servants I shouldn't wonder, and he'll still be stalking her and
      making her security guards earn their paychecks.)

      How our peerless leader suckered me into writing her commencement speech
      for her is an even greater mystery.

      Oh, that's right. All her New Year's money _and_ copies of her anally-
      retentive notes, previously seen only by Arima (so she says). Not to mention
      I do owe her a couple of favors. And it would be unprofessional to turn down
      work, I guess.

      I did ask, "Why don't you sweet-talk your husband into doing it, if you
      really can't be bothered?" (Meaning Arima. They're not actually married, of
      course, though I wouldn't be surprised if he'd proposed already.)

      "He's in the same boat as me. Too much hard-core studying and his own
      speech to write, which he's too proud to ask for help..." (Him being student
      body vice president and all.)

      "Refuse to have sex with him until he agrees to your demands. That ought
      to work, right?"

      "I'm not sure I could hold out. I'm up for it more than he is..."

      "Okay, Yukino, that was way more information than I needed. Um. What about
      Kano? I've taught her everything I know about writing."

      And Yukino just smirked and said, "But you know it better, right, Aya?"

      There was clearly no way out of this one alive.

      ---

      Kano Miyazawa's a good kid. Yukino talks a good game about living as her
      true self, but I think Kano actually manages it much better than Yukino ever
      did. That was the topic I managed to hammer out with our peerless leader.
      "Living as our true selves." That's her and Arima's mantra. Though Arima
      hasn't changed all that much from when I knew him at junior high, from what I
      can tell. I didn't know him all that well. I only know Yukino because she
      started dating Arima, and Maho Isawa turned her own class against her because
      they were jealous, and Tsubaki took pity on her. So we had a brainiac to help
      us on tests. A marriage of convenience, not a love match.

      Kano--first time I met _her_ was when she showed up on my doorstep, all
      but offering to sell her soul so I could write a love poem to Hideaki Asaba,
      of all people, because she didn't have a clue. For Valentine's, of course. I
      wrote a book, you see. SF, pretty crappy SF at that. But she was absolutely
      over the moon that "Ayaki Sawai" was a friend of her sister's. She really
      thought I was God. I could tell by her face. You couldn't put on a pose like
      that. It was frightening. Yukino--I dunno. I think she thinks acting real is
      acting weird, or saying stuff nobody wanted to know, like how often your
      boyfriend wants it. Seems like she's forcing it, like it's just another pose.
      Maybe Arima knows Yukino's true self. Maybe.

      How do you write SF? Or anything at all? Two ways. You can read a bunch of
      SF books until you think you can fake it. That's the easy way, and reading
      back my own book, it shows. First off you've got to make darn sure they're
      good books you're faking. So, for instance, if you want to write SF that
      doesn't suck, you don't read crappy books by Ayaki Sawai that she wrote so
      she could buy a laptop with the advance, with which she'd write the Great
      Japanese Novel, or so her mother was convinced.

      Then there's the hard way--write about something you actually know
      something about. I don't know anything about living as my true self. I know a
      bit about what I can _do_: I can write, sorta. I don't know what I _am_. What
      am I, a philosopher? Forget Prime Minister. Maybe Yukinon should be a cult
      leader, with me ghostwriting all her self-help books with New Age covers.

      I should have turned Yukino down. Same way I turned Kano down. I basically
      told her to forget about Asaba, which she eventually did, because even the
      best love poem wasn't going to make him like her back. What I didn't tell her
      was I didn't know how to write about love.

      ---

      Okay. I can do this.

      One angle. Living in truth. Vaclav Havel. Make it sound a lot more
      interesting than it is.

      "Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic, during his long
      years of dissent in communist Czechoslovakia, wrote most of his political
      works while in jail for offenses against the state. He used to joke, when he
      showed up somewhere unprepared to make a speech, that he'd had no time to
      prepare remarks because he hadn't spent the previous night in prison. Anybody
      who's spent the last three years studying for college entrance exams will
      know what he means."

      Crap. Even Dad wouldn't find that funny. Erase, start again.

      Another angle. More personal.

      "When I first enrolled at Hokuei High three years ago, I was far more
      perfect than I had ever been or ever would be again..."

      Crap. Why rehash how she met Arima? Folks don't care to know about her
      love affairs. No more than they already know, anyway. Erase.

      I don't know about living as my true self. I don't know about love,
      either. Or about war.

      I haven't lived through a war. Or fought in one. I've only seen pictures
      on TV, like they were pics from the latest action movie. How the hell would I
      _know_ that it was hell? How would Dad? When he said he was going to the
      rally he seemed all cheerful, like he was going to a party. Reliving his
      youth, when the revolution was at hand and he could feel he was living
      through a great adventure.

      Of course in school they told us about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and fed us
      the "no more Hiroshimas" mantra. I've got nothing against that line, but it
      meant nothing to me when I was little. Actually, when I'd ask Grandma Hirano
      --my Mom's mother--about when she was a little girl, she made the Pacific War
      sound like a bit of a lark. Me and Kyo used to spend summers at her place in
      Nagasaki, in the Urakami district near the Cathedral. We're pretty close to
      her side of the family, not so much to Dad's. I'd ask her about when she was
      a little girl, and she'd tell me about her seventh birthday party and her
      pretty red dress, and about her father who was a colonel in the army, and
      wore a grand uniform and looked very fine, and about her mother, who was
      young then, and wore beautiful kimono. You know, the usual sort of stuff
      people'll tell you about the old days, when the men were good-looking and the
      women were strong (or was it the other way around?) and the kids were all
      above average.

      I remember though that we'd go down there and she'd never have the TV on
      at her place. She'd have prefered I go out and play, like Kyo, but I wasn't a
      very go-y out-y sort of kid even then. I'd go, "I wanna watch Sailor Canuck,"
      but she'd be like, "Good little children shouldn't watch too much TV. It's
      bad for their eyes."

      "Don't you watch TV, Grandma?" I asked her once.

      "I don't watch TV in August," she said.

      Then I tried to ask her why, but she wouldn't answer, and asked me instead
      if I'd like a snack, and I liked snacks, so I said yes and she gave me a
      snack and then she asked if I wouldn't like to read a storybook, and I liked
      stories, so she gave me a book to read, and it was really cool and I forgot
      all about TV. I devoured any book I could get my hands on even then. I can't
      remember a time when I couldn't read.

      When me and Kyo got older and Mom didn't need us to be babysat as much
      (not to mention Grandma wasn't as strong as she'd been), she'd come up to
      Kawasaki to see us instead, in August. Partly to spend Obon with us. We'd go
      to the festival in Kawasaki. She liked to party. On August 15th, she and Mom
      would go to Mass, for the feast of the Assumption of Mary. The rest of the
      month they spent window-shopping, mostly. Now I like to shop, don't get me
      wrong, but I used to wonder, do you have to go into Tokyo to window-shop
      every single solitary day?

      Of course, on August 9 I suspect Grandma'd have rather been anywhere but
      Nagasaki.

      In August, of course, we're on summer vacation. One year, late in the
      school year--in my last year of junior high--we had a project on the Pacific
      War. We were assigned topics, and by pure coincidence, I got the Nagasaki
      bombing. It never really occurred to me until I thought about it that Grandma
      Hirano would have been a bomb survivor. You saw bomb survivors on TV, going
      on and on about how there should be no more Hiroshimas. Well, duh. They
      didn't seem to have any trouble talking about it, so I asked Mom if I could
      call Grandma and ask her about the A-bombing.

      "No. Absolutely not."

      "But Mom--"

      "No! She won't be able to help you."

      "Why not? She was there, right?"

      "Yes, she was there."

      "So--didn't you ever ask her?"

      "When I was small I had a friend whose grandmother lived with them. I
      asked Mammy if I had a grandmother, and she said no, and I asked her why not,
      and she told me, your grandmother died during the war, Fumiko. She died? I
      said. I was small. I didn't know what dying really meant. She said, yes, God
      took her to heaven. And she told me that her mother was sick, and went to
      morning Mass every day to pray to God, so she'd get better. And one day,
      while your grandmother was at work in a factory--her mother couldn't work,
      and her father was off fighting in the war--the Americans dropped a big bomb
      on the city. One bang and the city was destroyed. And the big cathedral where
      her mother was praying to God was destroyed, and her mother who was praying
      to God went right to heaven, and she who was working in the factory, where
      they made bullets to shoot people with, she was the one God decided had to
      stay on earth. And then she began to cry, and then I cried too, because Mammy
      was crying and...oh, it was awful, Aya.

      "Don't, honey, okay? It might be too much for her. She's not what she was
      after her heart attack. I don't want anything to happen..."

      "What about her dad? Your granddad? She showed me a photo of him once. She
      said he was dead, of course, but..."

      "I never met him. Killed in the war, I suppose. She mightn't know the
      details herself. You probably know as much as I do about your great-
      grandfather. Lookit," Mom said, suddenly angry, "will you leave me and your
      poor grandmother be about the bomb, Aya? Go research it at the library like
      everyone else does! You practically live there anyway!" She stormed out of my
      room, slamming the door behind her. Mom's dialect tends to come back when
      she's pissed off, so when she stops talking like a Tokyo gal, you know she
      means it.

      (Come to think of it, she sounds pretty dumb when she talks like a Tokyo
      gal. Fifty going on fifteen. Who's she trying to kid?)

      Of course, the budding journalist within me (goaded by the self-centered
      bitch) wasn't going to let herself be so intimidated. She knew a cover up
      when she saw it. Anyway, I wasn't going to be content with looking up the
      same books as everybody else! I wanted a scoop! And all I had to do was call
      Grandma when Mom was out! Probably be thrilled her favorite granddaughter
      called out of the blue!

      Of course, I called using a calling card, so it wouldn't show up on the
      bill.

      "Hello, Hirano's?"

      "Grandma? This is Aya."

      "Oh hello, Aya!" She seemed pleased to hear from me. A bit surprised,
      though. "How are you doing, pet?"

      "I'm okay. Got an article printed."

      "Oh, very good. Is your book finished yet?"

      I hadn't talked to her in a while. "Long ago. Got accepted. Coming out
      next month, I think. They're supposed to send me a few copies, so I'll get
      you one, okay?"

      "Oh, that's lovely! Your mum must be proud..."

      "Yeah. She won't talk to the neighbors about much of anything else. So
      how're you doing, Grandma?"

      "Oh, I'm grand, pet. How's your mum?"

      "She's no worse, I guess."

      She chuckled. "Worse than what, Aya?"

      "Than Dad."

      She laughed a bit louder. I'd figured out long ago she never liked Dad
      either. "Is your mum there, Aya?"

      "Actually, no. She's out."

      "Oh. All right."

      "Yeah. Um. She actually didn't want me calling you, so..."

      "And why not? What's so important that you can't call your grandmother to
      say hello?"

      "Well--I had a project for school, and--"

      "You want help with your homework?" She laughed. "And you ten times
      smarter than me? That's marvelous!"

      "Well, it was kind of a project about the Pacific War, and I wondered
      if--"

      "You could ask me about it?" On her guard. "What about the war?"

      "Well...Mom said that you said her grandmother was killed when Nagasaki
      was bombed, and I wanted to ask you..."

      "If it was true, Aya? Who in God's name would make something like that
      up?"

      "I didn't think you were lying, Grandma! I just..."

      "Aya. Is that really the only reason you called me up? To ask me about how
      my mother was killed by the bomb? So you could dig up your great-
      grandmother's bones and show them off to your teacher?"

      "No, Grandma! I wanted to know..."

      "You weren't there. How could you know? I pray to God you never do know."

      "That's why I'm asking you..."

      "What? I was there, so you want me to tell you about how horrible it was?
      Well, I don't want to talk about how horrible it was. If you want somebody to
      talk about that, why don't you ask all those people on the television who
      were there and never want to talk about anything else but how horrible it
      was? You should be ashamed of yourself. Goodbye."

      "Grandma--!"

      Click.

      Nobody said anything about it afterwards. I was afraid for a while Grandma
      would tell Mom about it. Mom would have killed me. But the whole point was to
      keep that can of worms firmly canned, I guess, so I suspect she didn't. I
      never dared ask Grandma about the bomb again.

      In the end I went to the library, like everybody else, and read the same
      books as everybody else. I learned the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
      was only a few hundred meters from the hypocenter. Turned out they actually
      didn't plan to drop the bomb there. The Cathedral's in the Urakami
      neighborhood, and they meant to drop it downtown. The biggest Shinto shrine
      in town, the Suwajinja, is downtown. It wasn't even scratched. They didn't
      rebuild the cathedral until 1959.

      Grandma used to take me and Kyo to Mass to the new cathedral on Sundays,
      during the summers we stayed with her. Even then I found Mass rather boring,
      but I loved the church. It was the biggest one I'd ever seen, much nicer than
      the one Mom took us to in Tokyo, and with a huge organ. I told Grandma once,
      before Mass--I couldn't have been more than seven--that "her" church was
      really pretty.

      "It was prettier before the war," she said, a bit sadly.

      I couldn't imagine that was even possible, and I said at the top of my
      lungs, "Really?"

      "Shush," said Grandma. "Don't talk so loud in the church. People are
      trying to pray." So I tried to pray the few prayers I knew without squirming
      too much, and she, I imagine, said a prayer for the soul of my great-
      grandmother.

      ---

      I don't know how I'm able to write anything at all. I lead a very boring
      existence. I go to school, study, read good books and articles, write crappy
      books and articles. Nothing ever happens to me.

      Then again, I'm not sure I could write anything at all if anything ever
      had happened to me.

      ---

      On my desk for the longest time there's been a picture of Anne Frank. Mom
      gave me her diary when I was in fourth grade. A perfect patron saint for
      someone aspiring to be a journalist, and then a famous writer. It passed
      muster with Dad because it was about the Second World War, and about how
      horrible the Nazis were. And they were, but she doesn't talk about that much.
      When she tries, she sounds pretty dumb. You can tell she's just parroting
      what her own dad says. She thought the world of him.

      Mr. Frank got the diary published after the war, I guess. Used the money
      to start a foundation to promote peace and good will toward men. In memory of
      his sainted daughter. Of course, she'd always be fifteen to him, too. And she
      wasn't around to object. You have to wonder if she'd have wanted it printed
      at all. Even in the book she goes back and reads stuff she wrote, and she's
      like "I can't believe I wrote this!"

      Anne's a lot more fun when she's writing about life in the Secret Annex,
      which she actually knows something about. There's an entry when she says
      she's going to talk about politics, and then she doesn't. She actually writes
      about her family, and the family her family's holed up with in Amsterdam,
      listening to the radio news, and how they react to it. One night they're
      listening to the news and a Dutch government-in-exile guy wants people to
      keep records of the war for posterity, and they all dive on the diary. So she
      went ahead and started editing the diary for publication.

      _Het Achterhuis_. "The Secret Annex." Anne said it sounded like the title
      of a detective story. Now I know what the diary's like. It's a bit like those
      girl's comics where the parents of this boy and girl move in together, swap
      spouses or some darn thing, and boy and girl are thrown together. Like Anne
      and Peter, a shy boy who won't amount to much. You know they're meant for
      each other from page one. Maybe that's why I liked it so much, even when I
      was in fourth grade. I was still reading stuff like _Mustard Girl_ then. I
      was on quite an Anne kick for a while. I took the picture out of the book of
      her smiling for the camera at her desk, dressed all in white, and I framed it
      and put it on the desk. Bite me, I'm a recovering fangirl.

      I read books about Anne, when I got older. Heard about a novel about her,
      so I picked it up. _The Ghost Writer_, by Philip Roth. I couldn't find it in
      Japanese, so I figured I'd improve my English in the bargain. Anne survives
      the war and goes to America as a refugee, calling herself Amy Bellette,
      taking a new identity so she can forget her life. She goes to college in
      America, and meets this Jewish writer guy, E. I. Lonoff. She writes stuff for
      his class, and she's good, but not good enough to impress him as much as
      she'd like. She starts to ask herself whether she's cut out for this, whether
      when she talked about being a writer she wasn't just "a young girl dreaming a
      young girl's dreams."

      She's at the point where she almost wishes she was back in the Annex, so
      she could write something decent, not at an American college being the queen
      of campus, when the diary comes out. Thing is though she doesn't bother
      trying to contact her father. She's living this big adventure, and she's
      already dead and gone to him, so waiting just a bit longer won't make matters
      too much worse--but then the play comes out, and it's too late. She'd become
      a saint. Who'd believe any real girl was Anne Frank now...?

      Or that's what Amy tells Mr. Lonoff anyway. Actually, it's pretty obvious
      even to him that either this Amy Bellette chick's a complete nutbar or she's
      making up this elaborate con to get in the pants of the Great American Author
      and move in with him under the nose of his long-suffering wife. Or both.

      He swallows it hook, line and sinker. It's his greatest fantasy. Hell
      yeah, he wants someone who'll be a fifteen-year-old virgin forever and ever.
      Lolita, call your office.

      At the end Lonoff's wife flips out and threatens to leave, saying Amy's
      welcome to him, which of course means, "Get out of my house, you tramp." Amy
      hightails it out of there. Why wouldn't she? She knows she couldn't keep up
      the holy virgin racket forever.

      I left the picture where it was. By the time I read _The Ghost Writer_ I
      hardly noticed it was there half the time.

      ---

      Good at heart. Pure. Childlike. They will never enter the kingdom of
      heaven who do not approach it like a child.

      Like Rika. I knew her in kindergarten. She still lives just a few doors
      down from me. She decided when we were in kindergarten that I was cool for
      some reason, so she stuck to me like glue, and insisted I share her lunch,
      and she always had nicer lunches than me, so I shared. She's been stuck to me
      ever since. I was already writing cute little stories when I was in third
      grade. Fairy stories. This was before I read Anne. She wrote fairy stories,
      too. Some of them pretty strange stuff. Like "Eva's Dream." Really trippy.
      She says herself she didn't know where it came from.

      I wrote one about a baby unicorn, which was good enough that my teacher
      had me read it to our class, and a couple of others. I don't remember the
      details. Rika demanded I give her the story, my only copy. The first present
      I ever gave her. There haven't been that many of them, so I'm pretty sure
      that was it.

      Knowing her she still has it somewhere. She still believes in unicorns.
      Crazy about the things. Up in her room, she has bunches of pictures of the
      things. I'm not sure I want to know if my story was the reason. We met
      outside Cinecitta once, not long ago--before Christmas, Yinyang hadn't
      gotten their big break yet--before a movie, and she was reading some
      fantasy book that she was begging me to read. Some post-apocalyptic world
      where this unicorn is the hero's companion--until the end when he gets the
      girl. Then the unicorn runs off.

      Or so Rika told me. I didn't look at it all that carefully myself. She
      made me read a couple of pages, so I did, but it wasn't my thing. It was
      rubbish really, but I knew better than to say so. I mean, my stuff's probably
      worse. But it wasn't my thing. I prefer Harlan Ellison. Him and Kurt Vonnegut.

      "It's all right," I lied, handing it back.

      Suddenly she looked very intense and said, "I don't believe it."

      "Believe what?"

      "I believe...that to be able to see a unicorn, one need only be pure of
      heart."

      "As opposed to actually being a virgin? Never having slept with a guy and
      stuff?"

      "Yes! I mean...I don't believe it! Why can't you see a unicorn any more,
      just because you fall in love? That's so sad..."

      I couldn't help thinking, what if you hadn't fallen in love, and you still
      couldn't see one? I'd read about them in storybooks, sure--I couldn't have
      made my literary debut in third grade if I hadn't--but I'd never actually
      believed in unicorns or fairies or anything like that. Living with a
      Marxist'll do that to you.

      "I guess..." Like a fool, trying to explain it rationally. "I guess it's
      like...believing in fairies or Santa Claus or something. Unicorns are animals
      from fairy tales, you know? So you believe in fairies and unicorns and stuff
      when you're a kid, but when you grow up, you get married and have kids, you
      don't believe in them any more..."

      "I believe in them!" Rika said firmly.

      And I couldn't believe what I was hearing, and I said, "Really?" But not
      too loud. Not like I was trying to tell her off or anything.

      "Yes, really, Aya," she said, suddenly smiling. There's these times when
      she smiles and I think I'm looking at an angel.

      I must have been looking at her a bit too long, because she suddenly
      said, "All right, let's go or we'll miss the movie."

      Couldn't argue with that. I'd dragged her out there after all. I had to
      review it for the magazine I sometimes write for. It was okay. Rika fell
      asleep. She doesn't like my kind of entertainment either, so I suppose that
      makes us even. I take terrible advantage of her, you know. She'll want to go
      to a movie, and I'll be like, "Sorry, got stuff to do," when the fact is I
      could tell just from the reviews it was a piece of crap, never mind that for
      reasons known but to God and Rika she wanted to spend time with me. When we
      were little, she'd come over to play, and I'd wind up making her arrange my
      books on my shelf and then tell her off for not putting them in alphabetical
      order. Later on, I'd be at home writing stuff, and she'd come over with food
      and insist that I eat it, and she'd watch me eat it like I was the cutest
      thing in the world. She's a great cook. I never cooked her a darn thing. Then
      again, it's all I can do to throw something in the microwave, but that's not
      the point.

      It was worse when I used to let her read my drafts. At least Kano gives me
      real comments nowadays. Rika's idea of critiquing my stuff was to tell me
      what I'd written was a work of genius, no matter what it was, so I've made a
      point of telling her to wait 'til it comes out. When it does, she's like a
      kid at Christmas. Never fails. Even if it's a short review saying something
      like "the director of this movie must die," she thinks it's great. When I got
      my book accepted she almost wet her pants, she was so happy. Me, I was like,
      "Guess the editor knows less about writing than I do," because it was no
      great effort to dish it out. Of course, I got off on getting all these awards
      for writing, but I used to think it was a great joke when anybody could have
      written what I wrote. "What is written without effort is read without
      pleasure," says Dr. Johnson. You can tell he'd never met Rika Sena.

      Kind of sweet. Kind of strange. Rika as well as me. Call me a masochist.
      When we first met Yukino said some weird stuff about really getting off on
      unqualified praise. To me it's more like torture. From the likes of Kano, I
      wouldn't take this sort of crap for a second, and Kano knows it. From
      Rika...from Rika it's all I can do to sit there and feel daggers shooting
      through my heart.

      ---

      We'd agreed to meet the others--Tsubaki and those--at a Tsubasa Shibahime-
      friendly cafe later. We're having a snack there and when Rika got up and went
      to powder her nose I asked Tsubasa, when Rika was out of earshot, if she
      still believed in unicorns.

      And she looked at me like I was out of my mind and said, "Uh. No. This
      some kind of joke?"

      "Why wouldn't you? You remember the Santa incident?" put in Tsubaki, who
      didn't know what I meant either but did think it was a great joke. More
      evidence for the prosecution. Me and Tsubaki told Tsubasa there wasn't a
      Santa, and she bawled, so we bought her all the sweet stuff she could eat and
      then realized we couldn't pay the bill, so we ran off and left Rika to pay
      it.

      "That was different. Santa brought me toys. No unicorn ever brought me a
      goddamn thing," said Tsubasa, and she went back to demolishing her
      cheesecake. "This cake needs sugar."

      "Aya," Yukino asked me, "why'd you ask Tsubasa that just now?"

      "Forget it," I said. I should have known it was a waste of time asking
      Tsubasa. Tsubasa's never been a child.

      "Aya?"

      I looked up. It was Kano Miyazawa, with a bag full of shopping and a
      notebook. She carries it everywhere these days, just in case she gets an idea
      for a story. Lucky her. She always has ideas for stories. Like drinking from
      a fire hose. Just then she was working on a book based on French Canadian
      folk tales. _La sorciere du nord._ "The Witch of the North." Kano's into the
      weirdest shit.

      "Oh, hi, grasshopper. What's up? You get a chance to look at that draft?"

      She looked a bit nervous when I said that. "I'm getting to it..."

      "In between shopping trips?"

      "I'm getting to it! I'll e-mail you something tomorrow night, okay?"

      "Okay. Don't make me sic Yukino on you."

      "Like you have to?"

      "You know you love it, sister dearest," said Yukino, grinning like a mad
      thing.

      "Say," said Tsubaki all of a sudden, "how come you call Kano 'grasshopper'
      anyway?"

      "She demanded I be her sensei. Why?"

      "It's like...how come _I_ never got a cute nickname?"

      "You," said Maho drily, "are not in the least bit cute." She sipped her
      tea. "Am I right, Sawada?"

      "_Damn_ right."

      "Well, then...how come Rika doesn't get a cute nickname?" Tsubaki asked
      me. "Isn't she cute enough for you?"

      "Say what?"

      "Who's not cute enough?" Rika had just returned from the ladies' without
      me noticing.

      "You," said Tsubaki. "Aya was just telling us all she doesn't love you any
      more. She's all about Kano now."

      Whenever Tsubaki says something off the wall, it's usually Maho who almost
      spits out her drink. It was almost refreshing to see Yukino do it this time.
      I used to wonder, does Tsubaki think before she speaks? Saying stuff like
      that like it was nothing. Dad'd probably put her on a pedestal, call her the
      liberated woman or something like that. Of course, instead of the liberated
      woman he married Mom, and just uses our computer to download chicks getting
      it on. I've seen his Internet Explorer history.

      One time when she was pissed at Dad she started in about one of his
      sisters. Hiromi Sawada. I used to see her now and again when I was little,
      when we visited Dad's family. Hiromi lives in Tokyo somewhere now, I don't
      know where. Pity I don't know her better, because I used to think she was
      kind of cool. Think Tsubaki with twenty-five years on her, bleached-blonde
      boy's haircut and not nearly as much of a bitch. Dad's family are from
      Nagasaki too. I don't know the details, but I guess Hiromi was expelled from
      Catholic school or something. For "'conduct unbecoming a young lady,' as the
      nuns put it," Mom said.

      Rika went really red and was like, "I beg your pardon?"

      Then Dad got pissed and said the nuns could go to hell for all he cared,
      and demanded to know what the hell that had to do with anything, and she went
      on about how he'd run away from his own Confirmation. I knew he hated the
      nuns at the Catholic school. Used to whoop him something awful, just to take
      out their frustrations as far as he knew. Put anyone off religion. The way
      Mom told it, Dad went up to the bishop, and just as the bishop was about to
      "seal him with the gift of the Holy Spirit," I guess he shouted, "Religion is
      the opium of the people! Long live the revolution! Long live Man!" and ran
      out of the cathedral. He wouldn't let me be confirmed at all, which was okay
      by me, but Mom thought it was a disgrace. That's it! She was upset because he
      didn't want me confirmed. Mind you, I think she wanted to please Grandma more
      than anything. She doesn't believe everything the church says either, and it
      was a bit hypocritical, seeing as I'd long ago stopped going to Mass.

      "Tsubaki's talking crap again, Rika," I said. "Sit down."

      "Yeah," said Tsubaki. "Aya was telling us all about Kano's pillow book."

      Mom wouldn't have let me read Anne either, if she'd read it the whole way
      through. Even at ten, there were bits that made me go, "Whoa," and I'd read
      them over and over, making sure nobody was with me, like it was porn or
      something. Probably by then it really was the raciest stuff I'd read before.
      When I'd read it my head'd go into overdrive. Anne talking about how at night
      she'd feel her chest and listen to the beating of her heart.

      Now Kano went red and was like, "Uh...no, she wasn't..."

      So Rika sat down, and she was like, "Why are you so mean to me, Tsubaki?"

      Mom said, "Marrying the son of the village atheists, I was a fool. I
      should have listened to my mother. Why do I stay around you at all?"

      "Because I love you," Tsubaki said, smirking.

      "Hmph." Rika went back to her tea. I kept my mouth shut.

      "Why do you think I keep you around, Rika?" Tsubaki went on. "I only allow
      the most beautiful women to hang around me..."

      Or how she was sleeping over with a classmate and she felt like she wanted
      to kiss her. I used to sleep over with Rika all the time. She'd be lying
      beside me in her futon, without her barrettes in, and I'd think she looked so
      beautiful. And this was in third grade still.

      "Tsubaki, cut it out," I said. "You're not funny."

      "Uh...don't you have a boyfriend, Tsubaki?" Kano asked, looking like a
      deer in headlights.

      "Yeah. He's very understanding. So if you wanted to go out sometime..."

      "Uh...I'll pass, thanks..."

      "She's messing with your mind, Kano," Yukino said. "Ignore her."

      Tsubaki didn't even miss a beat. "Just as well," she said, getting up out
      of her seat and draping her arms around Kano like it was nothing, and
      whispering in her ear. "It wouldn't work out. I'm on the rebound from
      unrequited love..."

      As we got a bit older we'd talk all night about boys, boys, boys, which we
      knew very little about of course, except that we thought they were cute. And
      one night our first year of junior high we'd gotten all worked up, and Rika
      was whining because she thought she'd never get a boyfriend, least of all
      What's-His-Name. Because he'd a pack of girlfriends older than us. And I told
      her, "Don't be silly, you're really pretty. You'll get a boyfriend, you'll
      see." Like I could talk. And she didn't believe me, because compared to them
      she had no figure at all. And I said, "I bet half of them use tissue paper."
      Point being she had nothing to compare to, and for that matter neither did I,
      and I dared her to put the light on and take her pajama top off. She wouldn't,
      unless I went first, and I was embarrassed too, but I'd started it, so I went
      first.

      Turned out she was more womanly than I was at that point. And I told her
      she was beautiful, and asked her was it okay if I touched them. To prove we
      were friends. Anne did that. I don't know why I did. Anne's classmate
      wouldn't dare, so I didn't think Rika would dare. Rika said okay.

      So I did, and after a while she told me it felt good, and asked me to hold
      her close. "Like you were a boy. Pretend that you're a boy."

      Whenever she'd stay over, after that, or I'd stay over, without fail she'd
      whisper, after we'd put the lights out, "What do you think of So-and-So? So-
      and-So's so cute, isn't he?" I never said no, and we'd usually wind up with
      our pyjamas off, under the covers, and I'd touch her chest, or between her
      legs, or wherever she asked me to, pretending I was So-and-So, or sometimes
      not pretending at all, until well into the early hours of the morning. It's a
      miracle our moms never caught us.

      What was odd was she never did anything to me, unless I really begged her
      to. Even then, it didn't feel all that great. Maybe she just wasn't trying
      hard enough. This was the only time she was ever that selfish.

      I never kissed her, either, like a boy. On the mouth, or between her legs.
      I did give her kisses. Dozens. On her neck, her chest, everywhere else I could
      think of. I'd have been happy doing nothing else but that, and half the time
      so was she. But never the mouth. We were just pretending. I wasn't really a
      boy.

      "It could happen, I thought," said Tsubaki. "You'd make a cute couple, you
      and Aya."

      Kano froze in place, and looked at Yukino for some backup.

      "Tsubaki, that's enough, okay?" said Yukino. "Leave Kano alone."

      In the hotel when we were in Kyoto before Christmas our freshman year, we
      were rooming with Yukino and Tsubasa. Tsubasa decided to sleep in the closet,
      God knows why, so beside us in the bed was just Yukino. Our first night there
      I waited until Yukino started breathing like she was asleep, and I whispered
      to Rika to see if she was still awake.

      "Barely. Why?"

      "Did you get a look at the receptionist? Was he hot as hell, or is it just
      me?"

      "It's just you. Aya, I'm tired, okay?"

      "Oh come on. He was gorgeous! Wouldn't you like to..."

      "Aya! We'll wake up the others!"

      "No we won't. It'll help you sleep. Please?"

      Because I knew I wouldn't sleep until we did. She didn't really try to
      stop me, but I was too chicken to take anything off with Yukino in the futon,
      so I had to slip my hands inside her pyjamas, and Rika bit her lip to keep
      from making noise. And she breathed heavy and she squirmed and then suddenly
      stopped, like she did, so I knew she was done and I whispered to her "How was
      it?" like I did, thinking she'd say "It was nice," like she did.

      "Horrible. It was horrible." She sounded like she was about to cry.

      "Rika? What's wrong?"

      "Aya, we've got to stop doing this."

      "But why?"

      "Someone as sweet and scrumptious as Rika is wasted on Aya," said Tsubaki.
      "I figured, Kano and Aya could write beautiful romances together, and I could
      feast upon Rika's homebaked pie..."

      I stood up and smacked Tsubaki in the mouth, as hard as I could.

      Then I slammed some bills on the table to pay my and Rika's share of the
      tab, grabbed Rika's hand and left the cafe with Rika in tow, without saying
      another word to Tsubaki or anyone else.

      That was on a Saturday. Kano sent me her notes on Sunday night, as she'd
      promised. The e-mail read:

      sensei
      ive attached my comments on the latest draft. sorry this took so long.
      grasshopper

      ps sis kicked tsubakis butt after u left, so u dont have 2. u freaked
      me out. r u ok?

      Rika'd yelled at me after we left the cafe. "Aya, did you have to act like
      that in front of everyone? That was so uncalled for..."

      "No it wasn't. Tsubaki makes me sick."

      "Tsubaki was being Tsubaki. You know that. She didn't mean Kano any harm."

      All I said in response was, "I don't give a shit about Kano."

      I e-mailed Kano back saying:

      Grasshopper,

      Yeah, I'm okay. Just get pissed off at Tsubaki sometimes. Don't worry about
      it
      any more. See you at school.

      Aya

      It was Kyo who used to get most of Rika's Valentine candy, even though he
      didn't like chocolate much, so I'd wind up eating it half the time. Of all the
      boys she thought was cute, she never mentioned him once. Not that she had to,
      really. All the boys she said were cute were the ones we hardly knew.

      Our freshman year of high school, when she'd come over and he was there I'd
      see them exchanging furtive glances. When we got back from Kyoto, he couldn't
      go out Christmas Eve, because we had to go to Midnight Mass, but he asked her
      to go with him to ring in the new year. Of course, she was absolutely thrilled.

      "You don't mind me borrowing Rika for the evening, do you?" he asked me.

      "Please be sure to return Miss Sena in the condition in which she was
      recieved." I felt like playing along. "Failure to do so will result in
      forfeiture of your 5000 yen deposit and an ass-whooping within an inch of your
      miserable life courtesy of Mr. Sena."

      "Dang, that's no fun. Forget I asked." Then he laughed and told me he was
      tagging along with her family really.

      I don't stay over at Rika's any more.

      ---

      At school on Monday I got to school really early. That was fine. Last
      thing I needed was Tsubaki hassling me about the other day before school. So,
      of course, I forgot that was the day Tsubaki showed up early for volleyball
      practice before school.

      So I'm at my locker putting my shoes in there when over my shoulder I
      hear, "Aya, about the other day..."

      I didn't even look at her. "I've got nothing to say to you. Don't you have
      freshman volleyball players to deflower or something?" I shut the locker to
      declare discussion over.

      As if Tsubaki ever took a hint in her life. "Aya, come on. You know me
      better
      than that. How long have I been dating Tonami now? Soon as we graduate I'm
      going to be taking a year out of my life to go with him to South America. Do
      you really think I'd do something like that with the likes of Tonami if I
      were a..."

      "Do _you_ really think the dyke act is still funny?"

      "Aya, I'm trying to say I'm sorry here..."

      "If you're so sorry, do you want to stop talking about having sex with
      Rika in front of the whole neighborhood? Why the hell do you do that anyway?"

      "To get a rise out of you and Rika. What do you think? Rika knows where
      babies come from, right? Shit, Rika's more mature about it than you. If I'd
      known you were going to flip out like that I'd..."

      "Did Yukino say something about Kyoto?"

      "Excuse me?"

      Tsubaki was looking at me, blankly. I suddenly realized what I'd said.

      "Nothing. Forget it."

      "What am I supposed to forget? What about Kyoto?"

      "I said forget it."

      Tsubaki shook her head. "And I thought Tsubasa was nuts." She honestly
      didn't know what I was talking about. Thank God for small mercies.

      "While we're on the subject," Tsubaki added before she walked off, "maybe
      you should treat Rika nicer yourself. Stop acting like you own her or
      something. Freaking possessive. You're as bad as Tsubasa, you know that?"

      Damn. I haven't written a thing yet, and my mind's in overdrive. I need a
      cigarette.

      ---

      Ah. To my smoking position. Tobacco. Chilly evening to be smoking outside.

      I can hear Yukino already. "Tobacco's bad news, tobacco's bad news,
      tobacco's bad news!" Tell it to your husband, Yukinon. Ah, but he doesn't
      smoke, right? Good little rich boy.

      "Aya?"

      I looked to my right.

      "Are you smoking again?"

      Rika was in the electric lamplight, standing ramrod straight in her
      sweater and cords, empty-handed, her hands clasped together. She'd spoken
      a bit nervously, and she was smiling at me, not beaming madly like she
      usually did. Wanly. Blushing just a bit.

      She hadn't her barrettes in.

      Was she trembling?

      I put the cigarette out.

      "Hi."

      "Hi."

      "No food? I'm hurt."

      She giggled. "Sorry."

      "Why didn't you say you were coming over? We could have gone to a movie.
      Didn't feel like hanging around here anyway. Told my folks I had work to do
      so I wouldn't have to go with them."

      "May I come in?"

      "Sure."

      ---

      She came in, and she sat on the couch, and I made some tea for Rika and
      put it front of her. We sat on the couch together, and she seemed to settle
      down a bit, not fidgeting with her hands as much. She didn't touch the tea,
      though.

      I'd forgotten about the cigarette completely.

      "Is everything all right?"

      "Where is everybody else?"

      "They all went out. Mom and Dad to Shibuya. Kyo to...wherever Kyo goes. I
      dunno..."

      "Hm."

      "So, yeah, there's just boring old me here. Is something wrong?"

      She smiled more broadly. "No."

      "Then..."

      Then she leaned into me, and shut her eyes.

      "No, nothing's wrong. There was just something I wanted to do tonight, but
      it's okay if I don't. I don't think I really had the courage anyway..."

      "To do what?"

      "It's a secret."

      "Okay." I whispered that, whispering because she was whispering. I hadn't
      felt this peaceful in ages.

      Since before Kyoto.

      "I like this," I said.

      Rika suddenly shot up straight. Her smile was gone, replaced with fear.

      "I have to go."

      "What? Did I say something wrong?"

      "No. Nothing. You didn't say anything. Thanks for the tea. I'll see you at
      school, okay?"

      "Uh...sure."

      And she grabbed her shoes and went back out the door.

      Within a few minutes my brain was back in overdrive.

      ---

      It was then I put the TV on and saw the report. There were a couple of
      bomb survivors there, as expected. Grandma hadn't been well lately. Had gone
      into the hospital for colitis. Common enough in people her age. I hoped she
      wasn't watching the news.

      In entertainment news, Sana Kurata was dating another himbo.

      I put the TV off after a few minutes. I still had nothing written. I
      decided to go with the personal opening to Yukino's speech and see how far I
      got.

      So, of course, I sat at the laptop and did nothing but stare at the
      screen.

      ---

      All fangirls must die

      ---
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