Arisugawa Juri slid the last of her students' papers into her briefcase and rose from the table. Only then did she glance around at the surprisingly not-empty classroom.
She said, in English, "Did you have a question, Ms. Satou?"
Satou Sei grinned, hitching her thumb in the strap of her backpack. "Just wondering if you'd like to have coffee sometime, Arisugawa-san."
Juri scowled, not just at the fact that Satou's reply was in Japanese -- verboten in this English-intensive class. "I do not fraternize with my students," she said sternly.
Sei's grin didn't fade at all. In nearly flawless English, she replied, "Are you sure 'fraternize' is the proper word for you and me, sensei?" With that, she winked audaciously and bounced out.
Juri leaned back in her chair, stretching so that her spine crackled. The final papers varied wildly and irritatingly in quality. No wonder the professor preferred to fob off grading on her graduate students.
She scanned through the next paper in the pile. Neatly typed, with precisely correct margins, fonts, and spacing. No egregious spelling errors leapt out at her. She skimmed some content. An analysis of Woolf's Orlando, what the hell?
She flipped the paper to the front. In the lower right corner: Satou Sei.
Juri snorted. It figured.
Sei popped around the doorframe of Juri's office. "Have you finished the grades yet, Arisugawa-san?" she asked.
Juri looked up at her, scowling at the torn jeans, sweatshirt, and tousled hair. "Yes, I've sent in the grades. Why? You can't possibly be wanting a higher grade. There isn't one."
Sei grinned with a little "Heh" sound and rubbed the back of her neck. "That's not why I'm here. I was wondering if you'd like to go for coffee sometime."
Juri's scowl deepened. "I told you at the beginning of the semester, Satou-san..."
"... that you do not fraternize with your students," Sei finished, in English. Then, in Japanese, "But you're not my teacher anymore."
Juri paused, her brain refusing to grind out another excuse in the face of that ridiculously infectious grin. "Oh, all right," she growled.
That Friday, Juri found herself walking to meet Satou Sei at the coffeehouse. I could just not go, she thought. I could send her email with an excuse. I could tell her no the next time she asks. I could tell her not to ask me again.
Sei laughed aloud when Juri arrived. "You came! I was afraid you'd send me an excuse in email!"
Juri was surprised at how well Sei cleaned up. She hadn't even imagined that the undergrad had anything in her closet other than jeans and sweatshirts. The slacks, blouse, and blazer were something of a shock.
Juri felt underdressed.
"I said I'd come," Juri grumbled.
La Dynastie Han
The second time they met for coffee, they, inevitably, talked about school again. Juri found relief from her own troubles in hearing about the simpler world of the undergraduate, and she did her part to try to dissuade Sei from graduate school.
Sei gave her an unreadable look over the rim of her coffee cup. "What do you want to do with your Master's?"
Juri snorted. "Go on for my doctorate, what else?"
Sei's right eyebrow raised. "You don't sound like you enjoy school that much. What are you avoiding?"
Juri looked away. "It's snowing."
Sei was sitting in the student center, reading a letter and smiling, when Juri happened by.
"You look happy," she said to the undergrad.
"My petite soeur is enjoying her first year of college," Sei said, folding the letter back into its envelope.
"Petite soeur...?" Juri said. "Oh, yes, you mentioned her before."
"It was a sort of thing done at Lilian," Sei said. "Particularly in the Student Council."
Juri raised an eyebrow. "Student Councils are very strange sometimes."
Sei nodded and shrugged. "Where did you go to high school, Juri-san?"
Juri twitched invisible lint from her coat. "Ohtori Academy."
Sei raised an eyebrow. "Elite."
"Ha," Juri said.
"You never talk about it," Sei said thoughtfully. "Does one think less about high school as one gets older?"
"I've always thought about it as little as I could," Juri replied.
"Date?" Juri said.
"Is it so surprising that someone would ask you on a date?" Sei asked with the usual grin.
"I... suppose so," Juri admitted.
"You've been on dates before, right?" Sei inquired, raising her eyebrows and leaning closer.
"Of course," Juri snapped.
"Good!" Sei said, clapping her hands. "Then you get to decide where we go!" She snatched up her backpack and sprinted off down the path.
Juri, just a moment too late, said, "Wait!" And then she thought, But I haven't accepted.
Somewhere on campus, bells tolled.
"Shiori?" Juri exclaimed, lurching to her feet.
Sei stared up at her with wide eyes. "Um, yeah?"
Juri sat down abruptly and drained her wine glass. "Sorry," she said gruffly. "So what happened to her?"
Sei laughed softly. "She became a nun. I think."
Several emotions played across Juri's face.
"So," Sei said after a moment of watching her, "what happened to your Shiori?"
Juri looked up sharply from the empty cup. Sei met her gaze evenly, and finally, Juri looked back at the tabletop. "She became a bitch. I'm sure."
"Ah," said Sei sympathetically. "It happens."
Juri glanced over Sei's shoulder. "A letter from Italy?"
Sei beamed at her. "A friend from school. We've been writing since I graduated. She sings."
"Huh," Juri said, sitting down at the table with her coffee.
"Do you ever hear from your friends from school?" Sei asked as she put away the letter.
"I didn't have friends in school," Juri said.
Sei raised an eyebrow. "You were surely popular."
Juri shrugged. "At Ohtori, that meant nothing." She counted off on her fingers as she spoke: "I was on the Student Council, I was the captain of the fencing team, I was at the top of my class, I was..." She looked at her hand, then picked up her coffee. "No real friends."
"At Lilian," Sei said thoughtfully, "the Student Council spent so much time together that we mostly had to become friends."
"At Ohtori," Juri said bitterly, "the Student Council was just a group of rivals trapped together."
"There wasn't anyone you'd want to hear from again?" Sei asked, sipping her tea.
Juri paused, looked down at the hand that lacked a rose signet again, then gave a small, rueful laugh. "I wouldn't say that."
The snow crunched underfoot as they left the movie theater. As they passed storefronts, Sei glanced into the windows. Juri kept her eyes on the ground.
Suddenly, Sei stepped into one of the storefronts. Juri turned, puzzled. It was a florist.
Juri waited curiously.
Sei emerged and extended a single rose to Juri. "They never have Rosa gigantea. It's a wild rose, not something one finds in florist shops. But it's a white rose, like this one."
Juri stared at her then, slowly, took the rose. The paper crinkled in her hand, and a thorn just barely pricked her through it. "I once knew someone else whose rose was white."
"Shiori?" Sei asked.
"No." Juri sniffed the rose. "She was a prince."
Sei shrugged. "I'm sorry I'm not."
"You remind me of her, though," Juri said, and took Sei's arm. "Thank you."
The doorknob jabbed into Juri's backside as she fell back against it. The door shut with a bang and a click, and she thought, How did this get started?
Sei's bomber jacket hit the floor with a thud and her hands found the snaps on Juri's jacket. Juri's hands, meanwhile, found the front of Sei's button-down shirt.
"This is a bad idea," Juri said into Sei's mouth.
"You really think so?" Sei mumbled, dragging Juri away from the door and aiming them at the couch.
"Of course," Juri replied, allowing herself to fall backwards onto the familiar couch, Sei's weight atop her. "The age difference, for one thing."
"Uh-huh," Sei said, shedding her shirt and peeling Juri out of her turtleneck. This accomplished, she reached down and traced the line of Juri's breastbone with one finger. "Do you feel a lot older than me right now?"
Juri looked up at the grinning woman kneeling over her and caught her breath. "I... no. I don't."
Sei's finger stopped at the convenient front fastening. "Because if you're feeling too old for this, I could stop."
Juri growled. "Don't you dare."
Juri leaned against the windowframe, watching the snow fall through the steam from her teacup. No cars travelled the street below, and sounds outside were muffled anyway. The wan morning light was only now reaching into the bedroom.
The rustling of the covers brought her attention back to the bed, where Sei slept peaceably on her side, one foot draped bonelessly outside the blankets. The noise came from the calico cat settling behind Sei's knees.
Then everything was still for a moment, even Juri's mind.
Juri raised her cup to the white world outside and drained the last of the tea. She set the cup down softly, let her robe slither to the floor, and slid back under the covers. Her spooning up behind Sei disturbed the cat, who turned an outraged look on them both and departed. "Hey, do you want breakfast?" she breathed in Sei's ear.
Sei smiled and burrowed her face into Juri's shoulder. "Sure."
Juri said, "It's snowing."
Sei looked up at her mischievously. "Damn, I guess I can't go home. Not yet, anyway."
Juri slid a hand around Sei's waist. "No, not yet."