Robert didn't show up for dinner, and it turned out to be a good thing. It took us much longer than I'd expected to fill in the gaps. I was amazed, again and again, at how much Anthy knew about Miki's family, and how those things tied back into Akio's schemes.
At last came the moment I'd half-expected all along.
"Miki," Anthy said, as he sat digesting our news and his partly restored memories. Tears trickled through his fingers as he held his face in his hands. "There's something you need to know."
Miki laughed, and it had an edge of hysteria. I shook my head at Anthy, afraid we'd pushed him too far with too many revelations. Akio's powers of mind-alteration were substantial and left deep scars, as both of us knew from experience. But Kaoru of Balliol responded with surprising bitterness and composure, and Anthy just nodded sadly at me.
"Your brother, the deputy chairman of Ohtori, manipulated the entire Student Council into dueling and scheming against each other so that they could possess you, the Rose Bride, by playing off each person's weaknesses and difficulties. In the meantime, if I'm not mistaken, he sexually entangled at least two of the Student Council, Utena, and a whole host of our loved ones, including Kozue. He has some kind of bizarre magical powers that derived primarily from you, and now he's hunting you again, and you're afraid he's gotten hold of one of the old Student Council, or one of the people otherwise entrapped by him at that time, and is draining that person of... what? Life, I suppose, like a vampire?" He laughed again, but it was deeper and the edge was anger. "What else could I possibly need to know, what else could possibly top this story?"
"I was the woman engaged to your father."
He froze, and it felt like the air froze around him. There we sat in the still light beneath the motionless horse chestnut, flies caught in an amber afternoon.
Then his shoulders slumped. "So even Father was involved? I guess he didn't escape when the opportunity came because whatever it was he was getting from that bloody bastard was too good." The trickle of tears renewed. "Oh, Kozue," he breathed.
I reached for Anthy's hand and she squeezed mine but didn't take it. She laid a hand on Miki's shoulder, and I watched him stiffen. He silently bore the contact for a moment.
"Anthy?" he said, finally.
"I made a right fool of myself over you, didn't I?"
Her mouth quirked in a sad little smile. "No, Miki. No, you didn't. You were looking for something, and didn't know how to put words to it. And you were always very sweet and honorable about it. I can't say that about everyone."
He gave a short blast of derisive laughter. Finally, he looked up at her, face still wet but concerned. "Anthy, I can't remember. Did any of them ever hurt you?"
Her expression grew sadder still. She replied, "Some tried. But a master had been there ahead of them."
"I couldn't find much to put into it," I said as I stood in the doorway of her bedroom, holding the rickety bed tray with the plate and cup on it. I scratched the back of my ankle with my other foot.
She sat up, rubbing her eyes, and she wasn't wearing anything. I hadn't expected that. I gaped for a second... until she noticed and smiled at me. Trying to look anywhere but at her, blushing furiously, I took the three steps that brought me to the side of the bed and set the tray down over her legs.
"I... um... I'll go... um... eat," I stammered, staring at the window.
"Utena," she said, and the way she said it made my eyes slew back around to her. Was my heart really beating so fast? I suddenly had flashes of nights when we slept on beds in a room together, facing one another, me in pink pajamas, her in a white nightdress with a great window silhouetting her.
She smiled, and I came back to the present. "Thank you, Utena. I don't... cook much." Was there a little flush across her cheeks? Had I surprised her too, and she was just trying to make the best of it?
"Um, well, you're welcome. It's... it's nothing, really. I mean, you came and got me out of that place. I don't even really know you, and..."
"Is that true?" she interrupted, in between bites of omelet.
Another image: me holding her wrist desperately at the top of a tall building, her nightgown and hair whipping around her, the cold numbing my fingertips so that only by gripping as hard as my muscles allowed could I be sure that I was still holding her. A terrible despair shone in her eyes as we screamed at each other over the roar of the tower winds. I felt my shoulders strain as I fought to bring her back from the brink, tapping some reserve I only sometimes knew I had.
My throat felt raw and parched, like it had the morning after that. "No," I said. "NotÍ not entirely."
She finished her omelet and sipped her tea. "No," she echoed, "Not entirely."
"Mother hasn't heard from Kozue in at least a year," he told us over dinner our last evening there. "I called and said I wanted to try to get back in contact with her, and Mother was so happy. She couldn't understand why I'd stopped writing Kozue in the first place. It was a little hard to explain."
I counted on my fingers, thinking. "She should be... what, in her second year of college now?"
Miki shook his head, viciously poking holes in his salmon with his chopsticks. "Her grades fell apart after I left. Another thing she blamed me for." His mouth twisted in a way I'd never seen on him before. It was almost a Juri expression. "At least now I know who's really to blame for it." Then he shrugged, and the tweed jacket resettled on his shoulders. "She was held back a year, and never actually graduated. Mother has been afraid that she'd just dropped out. That's what it sounded like to me. Now, I'm beginning to wonder if she ever left. Did he keep her back, against a time he might need her?"
"'As long as someone stays in this garden, they never become adults,'" Anthy murmured.
"A bright, sunny garden, indeed," Miki said savagely.
"It's possible," I said, remembering that I'd liked Kozue, even as I thought that perhaps she was a little scary from time to time.
He stuffed rice into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed, all with a startling rage. "Utena," he said, leaning across the table toward me. "What do you intend to do?"
I dropped my gaze. "I'm not quite sure. I think in terms of frontal attacks, but that might not serve in this case."
He nodded. "But, actually, it probably would." When I cocked an eyebrow at him, he shrugged and gestured with his chopsticks. "If he can find you in Boston, he can find you when you're sneaking into the heart of his power. Walking slap up to the tower and into his office seems like the most logical approach."
"I may have a different way."
Both Miki and I looked up, startled, at Anthy. "What?" we said, at the same time.
She ate a mouthful of noodles, staring hard at the tabletop. She looked up from her distraction and gave us a faintly surprised look. "Can't I have ideas?" she asked with a smile.
"Well, what is it?" Miki burst out.
"I have to think about it some more... I'm not sure it will work yet." She dropped her eyes back to the table, back to eternity. "I'll need all the help I can get if we decide to do it."
Miki and I, again, in stereo, "You know you have me!"
She laughed at us, and we all ended up laughing.
When Miki saw us to Heathrow the next day, his parting words were, "Just call me when you decide to move. I'll be there."
Anthy bore my illness and ill-temper with endless patience. "It's just that you've stopped being on their medication and your body doesn't quite know how to get back to equilibrium. It will pass, it will pass." Her cool hands soothed away the worst of my rages and my random weeping.
She would have to go out to shop or to take care of some business. During those hours, as I wobbled restlessly from chair back to sofa to counter to floor, I pried at the fragments of my mind. My memories had surprisingly sharp edges, like buried and broken glass. Anthy would usually come home to find that I had slashed myself on a hidden razor in my mind and I was helpless to staunch the bleeding.
During those times, she would hold me and rock me and tell me fairy tales.
As I leaned against the wall at the gate in Logan Airport, I wondered if I would actually be able to recognize Juri. If she would recognize me. When she stepped off the ramp into the waiting area, I wondered how I could ever doubt that I'd recognize her.
Tall, spine ramrod-straight, she strode through the crowd like they weren't there and cast one glance around the room before walking directly for me. Despite the years, my garbled memories, and her butched hair, Arisugawa Juri was unmistakable.
"Utena," she said, stopping about six feet in front of me, her right eye narrowing slightly. There was a very small question in that word.
Self-consciously, I straightened up from the wall, bracing myself against the force of her personality by planting my feet firmly. "Juri-sem... Juri." I had to catch myself, like I did with Miki.
Her face broke into a smile that never quite touched her eyes. We shook hands.
"Do you have any luggage?" I asked.
She shook her head, tugging the shoulder strap on the leather overnight bag I hadn't even noticed. "No need to brave the crowds," she said with a flick of her eyes toward the busy baggage return.
"I hope you don't mind taking the subway," I asked, leading her toward the exit.
"Not at all." Her head and eyes raked warily from side to side as we moved. When we stood, just the two of us, at the shuttle stop, those eyes settled on me. I bore the stress of her regard as well as I could.
"I remember everything," she said, watching my reaction.
I don't think I reacted. Well, I may have. I confess I was surprised. "Did you talk to Miki?"
One side of her mouth smiled. "Quicker than you used to be." Then the bus arrived.
On the bus, I asked her, a little tentatively, how things had gone for her since high school. She studied me for a long moment before saying, "I graduated, with the honors you might expect. I went to college in Kyoto, started in liberal arts and ended up in criminal justice. Got political. Stopped being political. Got political again and stayed that way. Despite that, I'm one of the youngest detectives in the country. So, what are you doing?"
She used to be eloquent and self-conscious, if brief. This change to bullet-like phrases startled me so much that it took me a couple of moments to realize that she'd asked me a question. "Um, uh, I'm at Boston University. Basketball scholarship."
Suddenly, I was ashamed. I dropped my eyes. "Physical education," I nearly whispered.
There was a pause where I expected her to start laughing. But she didn't. And she didn't say anything either. I looked up finally. She was watching me with those incredibly beautiful, cold eyes.
Then she smiled, and it shattered the ice in her gaze. "Dyke," she muttered, shaking her head. "You're gonna take me around, aren't you? I've been hearing all about New Words."
I grinned and breathed for what seemed like the first time in hours.
From time to time, Anthy would bring her little car out of the garage and we would drive out of London into the countryside. The landscape and architecture was strange and lovely on those trips. She knew the geography of Britain remarkably well. But then, she spoke English fluently with a very cultured accent.
One day, we stopped and walked into what seemed a perfectly average moor. Up one rolling hill and down into a gentle valley I followed her. Her dress didn't seem to get caught on any of the vegetation we brushed past. The temperatures were a little chilly to start, and the wind made it downright cold. I wished I hadn't left my coat in the car.
"Himemiya?" I asked.
She continued to walk, and I kept falling behind. I started to jog.
I glanced aside as a hare, flushed by my heavy tread, darted away through the heather. When I looked up again, she was on the next hilltop. I broke into a run.
"Hey, wait! Himemiya!"
I had the strangest sense of d╚jř vu as I dropped my head and started to sprint as hard as I could.
A half mile off, she stood in a circle of ragged, gnarled trees.
Panting, I finally caught up to her. She had stopped walking at the far edge of the trees, facing a low chunk of granite that was half overgrown. A river wound by the base of the hill on the other side.
"Here," she said as I caught my breath.
"What?" I wanted to know.
"I've been looking for it for months now and, at last, I sensed it," she murmured. She knelt next to the stone and brushed it off. She gently peeled away moss and lichen and began to dig at the earth that covered the near side, revealing more and more of the gray rock. At last, a shallow carving came to light.
I crouched and peered closer. "It... it..." I had to stop. My throat constricted so painfully that it brought tears to my eyes. A flood of emotion and memory welled up in my chest.
Anthy traced the lines with her fingertips. "One of the earliest versions of the symbol used at Ohtori, yes."
I blinked. Ohtori. I hadn't actually recalled the name until she said it. The flood hammered against the blockage in my throat and a cry burst past. I tasted blood and felt a ragged edge of skin where I'd bitten my lip.
She was saying something else, not looking at me. "It was my symbol, long, long ago. I had almost forgotten it, because he wanted me to remember it as his symbol. For me to reclaim it would steal a little more power back from him. He never wanted that, even if I did manage to escape."
My nightmares were stalking me by day now. I could hear them, see them. It had been months since I left the institution, and it had been at least that long since my waking hours were so terrible. I think I screamed once before falling to the heath, clutching at my face, trying to block the sights, the sounds. I was weeping.
Anthy still didn't touch me, though she turned to me at last. "Listen to them, Utena. You can hear them. You can hear their cries, feel their anger. A thousand million points of unending rage."
I gasped, looking up at her. I couldn't see her as she was, standing on the heath. I saw the figure who had haunted my forgotten dreams since childhood: the Rose Bride, impaled on the millions of swords of hatred meant for the Prince. There was a river of blood, pouring from wounds old and new, twining around her feet and away to the horizons. The body was wracked and twisted with agony. The fingers, clutching helplessly for freedom, for succor, for anything but this everlasting twilight.
And then I realized that the face I was seeing was mine.
Anthy had set out vases of flowers in strategic locations, drawn all the blinds open, and straightened up the last of the clutter. It didn't look at all like my home.
I took Juri's bag to our guest room, leaving Juri to prowl the perimeter of the living room and peer out every window. Anthy emerged from our bedroom at the same time I returned.
Juri turned to face her and Anthy bore the scrutiny with, I thought, far more equanimity than I had. "Himemiya-san," Juri said at last.
"Arisugawa-san," Anthy replied with a smile. "Please make yourself at home."
The detective's eyes flicked to a vase on a nearby table. "I would've thought both of you would be so sick of roses that you couldn't stand the things."
It was overflowing with multi-colored roses: red, white, yellow, green, blue, and orange. I wondered if Anthy had done that on purpose. I glanced at her, caught the mischief in her eyes, and knew she had.
"Would you like something to eat? Or some tea?" I asked as lightly as I could, moving toward the kitchen.
"No shaved ice for me, thanks," Juri said, still watching Anthy. "But I'll have tea."
I opened my mouth to say something, but I caught Anthy's smile and shut it. I went about making the tea.
"So, Rose Bride, what have you been up to with the Prince here?" Juri asked, still prowling, still watching.
Anthy seated herself demurely in her favorite chair. Nanami immediately took advantage of the lap afforded by this and settled into a perfect little purring circle. "I am no longer the Rose Bride, Arisugawa-san, but I am gratified that your memory is so clear. You even retain your dislike of me."
"Not the Rose Bride," Juri mused. "What are you, then?"
"I am myself, nothing more or less. What are you?" I could almost hear the explosion as Anthy raised her eyes to Juri's.
"I am Juri, at all times and in all places."
"And what is Juri?"
"What is the Rose Bride?"
"A victim. A sacrifice. It does not have to be me. It never will be me again. It is a mantle which changes with the person that wears it. Can you say the same of Juri?"
Juri barked a laugh. "Touch╚, Himemiya-san. Next."
Anthy smiled. "I think that you are the one with questions, Arisugawa-san."
"True enough. Why couldn't I find you and Tenjou when I looked?"
"I have some small talent for not being found."
"Why can't I find anything about your damned brother?"
"Because he doesn't exist."
"Au contraire. I know he does."
"Do you? Are you really trusting your memories so much, Arisugawa-san?"
Juri scowled and froze. "What are you playing at?"
Anthy stroked Nanami's silky puffball fur. "I am saying that if my brother were to leave Ohtori tomorrow and you looked at the records, you would discover no Ohtori Akio. You would find that for the past several years, a perfectly normal young man had been the chairman of the school. In fact, you would be able to find the young man, living a perfectly normal life in some perfectly normal town." Nanami looked up at her and blinked before curling into an absurdly cute fuzzball again.
The detective's lithe body snapped back into agitated motion as she began to pace the room. "The time at Ohtori seems more like a long, bad dream than reality," she admitted. "Now you tell me that some sinister magic is - and, presumably, was - at work." Her fingers raked the crest of copper hair that sprang forward across her forehead. "I live in the real world, Himemiya-san. I had to wait to escape from Ohtori the usual way, and it took me five years to fully emerge from that nightmare. Just seeing you threatens that in ways I never dreamed of."
"I understand, Arisugawa-san. I am sorry."
Juri dropped onto the couch with a sigh. "Let's stop being so formal. Call me Juri."
"Only if you call me Anthy."
They eyed each other for a moment, and then Juri nodded.
Victories, large and small, need to be celebrated with tea. Fortunately, it was ready.
She drove with a grim intensity. I don't remember how she got me back to the car. For all I know, she waved her fingers and I simply appeared there. If she responded to me, I couldn't hear her over the noise of the swords.
They clashed together, making long, singing cries of metal on metal. Every sword touched another, every sword struck different notes. Behind the deafening crashes, I could hear mutterings. Words punctuated the rare pauses in the phrases of the swordsong, words that I sometimes understood and usually could not.
Sometimes I felt myself suspended in a dark place, listening to them growling closer. Sometimes I felt them gliding silently through my skin, every motion a streak of pain across my vision, a scream that grated along my back teeth and never quite emerged. I was helpless to fend them off; I could see them, but couldn't touch them, although they pierced me effectively enough. No blood. I kept wondering at the lack of blood. Where was the river then?
Still, Anthy had not touched me, had not tried to comfort me as she had so many other times. In fact, she refused to look at me. Was I so horrible to look upon? I wondered. Perhaps she sees me as I am, as the Rose Bride. Maybe I've disappointed her, becoming the Bride rather than being her Prince...
"No, Utena," she said. "No, never disappointed. You are not the Rose Bride."
I hadn't realized I'd spoken aloud. Or had I? And what was I saying? It was slipping out of my mouth past my consciousness and I couldn't even hear it when it emerged.
"You know what the Rose Bride was. She took the swords for the Prince." Anthy spared me a glance. "I can't do that for you. I won't."
What was that sound? Oh, I was grinding my teeth. I stopped. "I... wouldn't ask you to."
"Once upon a time, Utena," Anthy said, in a gentle voice that penetrated my haze. "Once upon a time, there was a Prince, and she was cast into the Wasteland, without memory of who she was, or even what she was."
"Why?" I asked, gritting my teeth against the feeling of my skin stretching and parting under the assault of another blade. It slid into my gut, then began to twist as it emerged from my back. The plastic of the armrest cracked under my fingers.
"Because she had foiled the plans of a king of a small kingdom. Because she had sacrificed herself in a way that he could not imagine she might. In fact, she had acted contrarily all along, and he was angry and frustrated and tired of her interference."
"What happened to her?" That one came out the same way it had gone in, but another pushed in just under my left breast, skidding sickeningly over a rib before finding the space between bones. I was detached enough by now to wonder that my lung didn't collapse.
Anthy stopped the car and looked at me for a long moment. Then she shook her head. She finally touched me, my face, and I felt drowsy. As the world, the pain, and the sounds slipped away, she said, "She had to learn to send what belonged to him back to him."
But why did he always destroy his chances? Because he didn't really want to open the Gate. Behind the Gate, as you found, was me. My life, my power, my Self, held in a coffin full of roses. I suppose, like a child, he wanted to look in on me to make sure I was still there, would still remain there even though the free sky was above me. But at the last moment, fear would take him and he would not trust me to stay.
I loved him. I love him. I can't get away from that. But love without trust erodes into a new shape.
@---Go on to Part Four---@