Notes and Disclaimers: The characters of Sei and Shiori, and all other concepts taken from Maria-sama ga Miteru are the property of Konno Oyuki, Cobalt Shueisha and Geneon Entertainment. Pam and the basic idea of the story are mine. By all means, feel free to use Pam, because Sei needs a cool girlfriend, but do remember to credit me. Thanks.
This story is the second in a trilogy of short stories. You do not have to read them in any order, but I do hope you’ll read them all. You can find the first in the series, Until We Meet Again:1, up on my Marimite Fanfic Page already. I think this particular story is a really unique look at Sei and Shiori. :-)
If you enjoy this, or any of my stories, please think about buying my original novel Shoujoai ni Bouken: The Continuing Adventures of Yuriko. If you can’t do that, then a nice email telling me you like my work would be nice. :-)
Until We Meet Again 2
It wasn’t her idea to come here. But Pam had insisted that, if they were in San Francisco, that they go to the Castro at least one night.
Sei hadn’t made a big deal of it – after all, they had to eat, so this was as good as anywhere else. But she never really liked “gay” areas. It was always too ghetto-like for her taste. Too “look, I’m walking on a gay street, going into gay stores, buying gay things with my gay money – and I’m GAY!” It made her shudder.
It wasn’t, she had once explained to Pam, that she was in the least little bit closeted. It was more that that kind of stridency about anything really set her teeth on edge. It didn’t matter if the person was, say, English, or a golfer, or really religious – any time you need to keep up that kind of repetition…it reeks of unhealthy obsession. To drive the point home, for the next day, every time Pam said or did anything, Sei had followed her around asking if it was a gay waffle that she had just eaten, or hey did she buy that gay soda with gay quarters? Exasperated, but laughing – and that was exactly why Sei loved her so much – Pam had conceded the point.
So Sei and Pam found themselves in the Castro. It was nice enough, if insanely hilly. They didn’t look like particularly steep hills, but since Sei was the one carrying the bags of stuff they had bought (curtains from a textile store, Castro and San Francisco knick-knacks for friends, and an eight inch tall bronze statue of White Tara for Pam’s sister,) it was slow going.
The people seemed to be mostly other tourists, suburban posers and shopkeepers, but Sei liked the prissy architecture and the slowly, but steadily, increasing number of women in leather on motorcycles who paraded down the streets. The sun was lowering, and the town was coming to life, as people came to have some dinner before a night of serious partying. It was summer, it was Saturday. It was the Castro.
They found a café that served a nice variety of food. They ordered eclectically – another thing Sei loved about Pam – and tucked happily in when the satay pork, hummus, stuffed peppers and green tea arrived. Dinner was a pleasant prelude to a decadent dessert.
“Okay,” Pam said around a mouthful of caramel cheesecake. “It’s not so bad, right?”
Sei admitted that it wasn’t so bad.
“So when I ask if we can go to a club, you won’t get all sulky on me?”
Instantly, Sei pouted, but Pam just laughed at the expression. “When Japanese girls are little, do they teach you all how to pout along with your kana?”
Sei’s lips quirked. “Do they teach all Australian girls to be obnoxiously persistent when you’re learning how to surf?”
Pam laughed, because she knew she had won. “Yes, we start learning surfing as soon as we can walk, and blockheaded persistence as soon as we can talk.”
So, yes, they ended up at a club. Sei was ready to be obstreperous, but was too tired to make it work. And it wasn’t so much of a club as a restaurant/bar/club thing anyway. So they walked in, looked around and headed for a table along one side. Sei had a bit of a time maneuvering around with her bags, but she made the table with only a few “excuse me”s and “I’m sorry”s. Pam offered to get the drinks, and Sei let her.
It was still early – the place was pretty empty. A few small clusters of men or women sat together around tables. A few men danced in front of the DJ, and one woman stood on the side of the dance floor swaying easily to the music.
The music was eclectic, not too heavy on the dance mixes, and Sei was inclined to be generous about the place. She would have liked to get up to dance with Pam, but they still had their bags to watch.
The place began to fill up a little more. Sei and Pam watched the people watching the people. They laughed as a smooth-moving guy found himself shot down by a young guy, and they watched some lesbian drama play out at another table, filling in dialogue for the hand gestures and body language.
“Don’t do it!” Sei begged, as the blonde at the table half rose from her seat. “Don’t go back into the bullfighting ring!” Pam dissolved into laughter.
Then it was Sei’s turn to get the drinks. She weaved her way to the bar, taking detours around clumps of people and tables. She was turned slightly to fit between two chairs that were back to back, when a man walking by from behind bumped into her slightly, forcing her to back into a chair. She spun around with a quick apology. The woman who looked up at her was Asian.
Sei smiled and said, “Excuse me.”
The woman’s reaction was bizarre in the extreme. Her eyes widened and her hands flew to her mouth. Sei, who was on a mission, nodded quickly and turned away. She had taken one step forward when she heard the woman say her name.
She had only had one drink, she told herself. Hardly enough to get drunk, much less hallucinate. But she turned politely to ask whatever it was that the woman had said that she had mistaken for her name, and was ready to laugh it off as a mistake, when the woman said it again. “Sei! It is you!”
The woman’s eyes were large and wide. Sei looked at her more closely. Asian. Yes, Japanese – she had to be, as her last words had clearly been in Japanese. The woman had short hair, and dark eyes. Sei started to think for a moment that she knew who it was, but crushed the thought as soon as she had it. There was no reason to resurrect demons from the distant past and what were the chances that it could possibly be…
“Sei – it’s me. Shiori. Kubo Shiori?” The woman stood, reaching out with one hand as if to grab her by the wrist, but she did not touch Sei. She said her name in a way that made it sound unsure – as if she might not be who she said she was.
Now that the name had been spoken out loud, Sei looked at the woman for a third, longer time. It could have been Shiori. Her hair was boy-short, cut crudely, the kind of sad haircut thing that nuns – and lesbians – wore. Her eyes were sadder than Shiori’s always-sad eyes, but time and heartbreak do that. And her voice was…
“Shiori?” Sei asked. “Is it really….” She took a deep breath. “…you?”
The woman looked terrified. Her eyes moved frantically from side to side looking for a way to escape. Her eyes dropped and her head bobbed in the smallest nod.
Sei looked around. “Wait here, I have to…” she looked back at Shiori’s pale face and thought that if she were to turn her back for a second, the other woman would bolt. And she could not, must not, be allowed to do that. “Come with me.” Sei commanded and reached out to grab her by the wrist. Pulling Shiori along, Sei made her way through the crowd, back to her table.
Pam saw her coming and made a face. “I sent you for a drink and you bring me back a girl? You’re a lousy wait…” she stopped as the looks on the faces of Sei and the stranger struck her as odd – and a little scary.
“Pam, I want you to meet someone.” Sei’s voice was harsh. “This is Shiori.”
The other woman bowed, her face shadowed, and her voice inaudible.
Looking up at the other woman, Pam said in Japanese, “It’s nice to meet you.” To Sei, she mouthed, “*The* Shiori?” Sei nodded shortly.
Sei did not let go of Shiori as she introduced Pam. “This is my girlfriend, Pamela Tyson. We met in grad school. She’s from Australia.” In three terse sentences, Sei conveyed an extraordinary amount of meaning. Pam could hear the many unspoken meanings as clearly as if they had been said.
Looking at her wrist, on which there was no watch, Pam said, “Gee it’s getting late and I have to be ready to lecture in the morning. Sei,” she shot a glance at her lover, “why don’t you and Shiori catch up? I’ll head back to the hotel. Take your time.”
Sei’s eyes softened with appreciation. She sat Shiori, who still had her head down, in one chair, and lifted Pam with the other. Kissing the other woman lightly on the lips, she murmured, “I love you.”
“I know,” Pam smiled. “I’ll see you back at the hotel.” Leaning down slightly to grab their bags, and incidentally catch Shiori’s attention, Pam told her that it was nice to meet her, and to have a nice reunion. Shiori thanked her weakly, and with a forced smile watched her walk away, leaving her alone with Sei.
They stared at each other across the table for a very long, awkward minute.
“So,” Sei began, her eyes a little narrowed, “what brings you to San Francisco?” As it became apparent that Shiori didn’t know what to say, or how to say it, Sei answered the question on her own behalf. “Pam is doing a lecture, as she said, here. I just came along for the ride. You?”
Shiori’s mouth moved, but nothing came out. She sighed. “Sei, I’m…”
“What brings you here?” Sei repeated, interrupting the apology. “I don’t want to talk about then. Not yet.”
Closing her mouth, Shiori looked at her hands, clasped in her lap. “I’ve left the Church.”
“Oh?” Sei wished desperately that she had managed to get that drink.
“I…I….” Shiori looked back up at Sei, her eyes wet and full of pain. “I fell in love with one of the other sisters. It was awful. I had to leave.”
Sei felt a little kernel of malicious pleasure at this, but it gave way at the obvious torment Shiori had faced…was still facing.
“I left Lillian, and enrolled in another Catholic school. Following my 18th birthday I became and novice and eventually took vows. And for a year or two I was happy. I taught classes in the local neighborhood, and I loved helping the children with art projects and other crafts.
“I was supposed to help the sister in charge of the day care. She was fantastic with the kids. It was as if each one was her own special child. No matter how smart or slow – she found the child’s best quality and nurtured it. Every day with her was a miracle.”
Inside her head, Sei begged Shiori to stop. But in some part of her mind, Sei knew that she, and she alone, had the ability to absolve Shiori of this sin. So she grit her teeth and listened.
“We,” Shiori faltered. “We kissed in her room. I couldn’t stop myself from looking at her lips.”
Visions of Shiori’s lips filling her sight popped into Sei’s brain mercilessly. In the church at Lillian, where she had waged a war with a 2000-year dead spirit and lost. Sei dropped her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, truthfully. If it had been awful for her at 16, desiring something so flawless and perfect, something that stood in front of her, warm and live and soft, how much more awful would it have been for Shiori, when she thought had given that part of herself up forever?
“I left the next day.” Shiori seemed to have found some strength within herself at last. “Sei, how can you ever forgive me? I was so wrong. You were…”
“I was young, you were young.” Sei felt exhausted. “You did what you had to do.”
“Can you forgive me?”
“I wish I could say no,” admitted Sei, her words flaying an already raw Shiori. “But I did, long ago. Because you made the choices you did, I became the person I am now.” She looked into Shiori’s eyes. “After you left, I withdrew completely into myself. But through luck – and maybe because Maria-sama felt she owed me, who knows, people who became very important to me helped me to become the person I am now. I’m grateful for that – to you, to Maria-sama, to the people who saved me. And, honestly, I don’t even really want to think about those days.” She shrugged. “What good would it do?”
Licking dry lips, Shiori nodded. “You asked me why I’m here. I’m here to meet someone. Tonight.” Looking down at her wristwatch, Shiori said, “In about twenty minutes.” She gave Sei the wateriest smile possible, looking terrified and excited all at once.
Sei pursed her lips, as Shiori’s meaning sank in. “Ohhhh,” she said, smiling slightly herself. “What a coincidence.”
“I’m sorry for being so melodramatic – I thought I saw you, and blurted out your name, then panicked when it really was you.” With every word color came back into Shiori’s face. She inhaled and exhaled audibly. “I’ve wondered for years what I would say to you if we ever met again. But I never did come up with anything brilliant.”
“Me too. I always wondered if I’d hate you, or be condescending, or relieved or what. But,” Sei leaned forward, “I never once wanted you to hurt. Never. I’m sorry for….”
Don’t.” This time Shiori cut short the remark with surprising firmness. “If you apologize for loving me, I’ll never forgive you. There were days that that was the only thing I could hold on to – that you loved me, that that alone was real.”
Sei nodded shortly.
“I wasn’t just living one lie…I was living two. I didn’t really want to be a nun – I wanted to be a saint. I’m sure I’m not the only teenaged girl to turn her personal suffering into religious fervor, but it took me destroying two wonderful women to realize that. And when I left the Church, when my faith in my faith was wavering, and my belief in my right to exist was gone – the only thing I could hold on to was the fact that you…and Sister Mari…had loved me. If I could believe that I was someone such wonderful people could love, then I could believe that I had a right to continue. A right to exist.”
Sei’s words seemed to come from somewhere inside her. “I knew, almost from the very beginning, that the choice you made was the right one. It couldn’t have been good – we had no future to go towards. It hurt, but I knew it was the best thing. A year later, I met someone who freed me from the hurt. It wasn’t that she did anything special – she just was special in and of herself. And I learned to love in moderation. But for the longest time I thought that I’d never love that way again – with passion, with fire. I assumed I had used it all up on you. Then…one day, I met Pam. And I was wrong. Again.”
Having said that, it became apparent to both women that they had exhausted everything they needed to say. Sei and Shiori met each other’s eyes. They could see the distance between them growing with every moment. Akashic ties, red threads of the past, dissolved into nothing as they faced each other in the present.
Sei stood, her hand over her heart and bowed. “It was good seeing you again.”
Shiori bowed where she sat. “I won’t say ‘until we meet again,’ but…it was good to see you, Sei.”
Sei left without looking back.
After Sei had disappeared from sight, Shiori looked at her watch once more, then turned toward the door and waited.