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The Book of Love

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It’s a modestly-sized apartment. Mary has traversed it lengthwise before Ririka has had the chance to remove her shoes and the beige puffball hat from off her head.

Mary’s socks kick-up dust from the smooth wood flooring when she skids a bit by the end. Ririka giggles at the sight, of how Mary almost slips, but manages to steady herself by taking hold of the curtains lining the balcony in both her hands.

When Mary draws open the shuttered blinds, dust dances in the stale air, a prism of iridescent colors in the refracted, orange-yellow light of the setting sun.

Ririka watches from the entryway, her eyes widening at the play of lights. It almost feels like there’s magic in the air.

Ririka blinks, the spell breaking only when Mary coughs and fans the air with an open palm. Still holding one end of the curtain, Mary turns back to glance gingerly at Ririka.

“I know it is not much,” Mary says, voice uncharacteristically hesitant as her grip on the curtain tightens. “But—“

“It’s perfect,” Ririka interrupts her, smiling gently. She can’t keep the awe from her voice as she takes her first tentative steps into what will be their new home. All she sees of this empty space is a blank canvas and a fresh start.

A home, Ririka thinks, giddy at the thought. Their home. And it is, pretty much. Though they have yet to co-sign the lease, and the landlord hasn’t yet arranged to turn on the electricity for the apartment—the rest of it is plain formality.

“Perfect?” Mary’s gruff voice lilts endearingly in surprise. Mildly embarrassed, she scratches the side of her cheek. “Geez.”

“Hm?”

“You’ve gotta learn to have higher standards,” Mary complains, though Ririka can see how she stands just a little taller after saying this. We all have our tells, Ririka thinks, smiling at the thought of Mary’s little idiosyncrasies.

Ever the woman of action—and prideful enough not to let Ririka see her most-certainly blushing face—Mary stalls for time by reaching for the latch of the balcony door and sliding it open.

The vacuum of silence between them shatters when the winter wind forces its way indoors, howling all the while. The sun is still shining, though—peeking through the clouds. Besides, even if that wasn’t the case, the stormiest of weather wouldn’t be able to stop Ririka.

Her determination gathers strength with each step forward she takes, deeper and deeper into the empty apartment, closer and closer still, to Mary.

“You’re here with me,” Ririka says when she nears Mary enough to speak directly into the shell of her ear.

“It’s ours,” Ririka openly declares. She cements the notion in her mind by winding her arms snugly around Mary’s waist. “It’s perfect.”

When Ririka finishes talking, she tucks her chin against Mary’s shoulder and drapes her body across her girlfriend’s back. They sag against each other, contented and cozy, their warm bodies interlocking like pieces of a jigsaw.

“You big sap,” Mary mumbles, though try as she might, she can’t keep the fondness from seeping through to her voice. “You’ll kill me one day, I swear, of some sugar overdose.”

In answer, Ririka chuckles. Amused by Mary’s grousing, she turns her head to press a chaste kiss against Mary’s warm cheek.

In the aftermath, Mary lays her palm against the spot and noisily clears her throat. Ririka deepens their hug, quietly giggling all the while.

“Where was I?” Mary continues speaking after a beat. “So I scoped out a few apartments, and I think this is our best bet given our budget and needs. I know it’s a little small, but the location is great. There’s a bus that’ll take us straight to campus. We can even cycle there if we want.”

“Cycle?”

“Yeah. It’s only 10 minutes away on a bike, though the route is a little uphill. What’s up? Don’t know how to ride a bicycle?”

In response, Ririka makes a squirmy, non-committal noise. Embarrassed, she tilts her face to hide in Mary’s scarf.

When Mary prods her gently, Ririka answers by burrowing deeper into Mary’s scarf to hide her face from view. Sometimes it feels like weakness is a trait she’ll never get used to showing the world.

“Hey…”

Sensing her unease, Mary fumbles behind her for a bit before she clasps Ririka’s hand in her own.

“Don’t worry. I’ll teach you how one of these days,” Mary reassures her, and with the same air of easy confidence she always exudes, kisses Ririka’s knuckles.

At the press of her lips, Ririka sighs in soft relief.

Sometimes it feels like Mary knows all the ways around the maze of her heart. Like it was never there to begin with, Ririka’s earlier uncertainty sublimates into the air, soon to be replaced by deep-seated affection.

“I love you.” The words slip from Ririka’s mouth out into the brisk winter air, as natural as breathing.

Caught totally off-guard, Mary laughs then, a full-bodied, gregarious sound.

“Wow,” she says, pleasantly surprised. “Okay. Where did that come from? No way in hell I’m complaining, but hey… you might sing a different tune one of these days.”

Ririka frowns. “What do you mean?”

Mary clears her throat. “Well, living on your own is a world’s apart from life at the Momobami estate, you know? It’ll be just the two of us. No servants to cook your meals, or do your laundry, or do whatever-the-heck else servants do.”

“I see,” Ririka says.

Her blue eyes glass over. In her mind, the ghosts of her past dance macabrely like shadows on the wall—the arc of a blade, the splatter of blood… Ririka must blink a few times to recompose herself.

She thinks of all the lessons taught by her grandmother as her eyes fix steadily upon the distant horizon, at the dying embers of a sun sinking beneath a canopy of snow-laden trees.

“I don’t think I will,” Ririka says now.

“Hm?” Mary quirks an eyebrow as she tilts her head to look at her.

“I don’t think I’ll ever change my mind,” Ririka reaffirms, her expression earnestly determined as she meets Mary’s gaze.

“Oh? Confident, are we?” Mary goads. “How can you be so sure you won’t regret it?”

Ever the pragmatic contrarian, Mary is trying to call out a bluff that doesn’t exist. When Mary smiles, she’s all teeth, cocky as ever. The sight makes Ririka want to smile. She has issued her challenge, and now it’s Ririka’s turn.

Ririka tilts her head to the side, carefully considering her next move. It’s hard sometimes, to shape thought into words.

She thinks of love and she thinks of Mary. She thinks of Mary and her heart feels so full, like there is a weight in her chest she never wants to put down, but Mary’s never been one for saccharine platitudes.

And so Ririka speaks her next words with her entirely in mind.

“Because you’re here with me,” Ririka says. “I’d bet my life on you, Mary Saotome.”

She has before; she will again. That’s the naked, boldfaced truth here and now, and each day moving forward. It’s the song in Ririka’s heart. She would sing it from the rooftops if Mary so asks, but she never does. Mary never asks for more than what Ririka is willing to give.

It’s one of the many reasons Ririka loves her—how it’s never been a hard contract between them. Just a promise and a leap of faith: again, and again, and again.

Mary is grumbling again about dying of sappiness. It comes tacked at the end of Mary’s grousing—her hurried confession of love.

Ririka can hear it though, loud and clear.

Ririka’s breath catches. From the corner of her eyes, she can see Mary’s face bloom, red as a carnation. Sometimes, Mary’s words and her actions don’t quite line-up. Sometimes, the two are entirely in sync, and Ririka swears it is the most endearing thing in the whole wide world to behold.

Sweetly and entirely without reservation, Ririka smiles. She nuzzles closer until they are pressed, cheek to blushing cheek.

After a moment, they pull back in unison to look at each other. Mary searches her blue eyes for any hint of hesitation or uncertainty.

What do you want? Mary had asked her, years ago.

“Are you sure about this?” Mary asks her now.

“Yes”, Ririka says, heart brimming with love. “I am. I have never been more sure of anything in my life.”



“Ririka!”

Ririka groans feebly. Thin in the distance, she can hear Mary’s voice straining to reach her. She’s probably still at the top of the hill, Ririka thinks, mind in a daze. Her heart is racing, wild as the wind was against her body just seconds ago. Blinking a few times, Ririka takes large gulps of air to temper the adrenaline coursing through her veins.

How fast was I going? Ririka thinks, staring blankly up at the cloud-speckled blue sky. Bit-by-bit, the ringing in her ears abates, and the world sharpens into some manner of coherence. In the air is a strange, rickety sound. One of the wheels of the bike must still be spinning, stuck up in the air.

Again and again, Mary calls out her name, her voice growing steadily in both volume and concern. Ririka groans as she tries to sit up. She opens her mouth to shout that she’s alright, and winds up spitting out a leaf instead with a softly uttered ‘bleh’.

She makes to cradle the back of her head and winds up picking a twig from out of her long, tousled hair.

Half-pinned under the weight of Mary’s bicycle, and cushioned, yet pin-cushioned by clumps of leaves and the thorny stems of the hapless bush she had crashed into, Ririka smiles sheepishly up at Mary when her worried face enters Ririka’s frame of sight.

“Shit,” Mary seethes as she gingerly eases the bicycle off Ririka. The action takes her but a moment. Then she’s back at Ririka’s side, gently easing her into sitting upright on the pavement with an arm curved around Ririka’s back.

“Are you okay?”

Knees scuffing the pavement, she hovers over Ririka, worriedly fussing as she takes stock of her injuries. All things considered, it is not that bad. All she has suffered this time is a scrapped knee. It throbs in dull pain under the fabric of her jeans, but she has been through far worse.

“I’m fine,” Ririka reassures Mary. Still though, she flinches when Mary cups the side of Ririka’s jaw for a closer examination of the small scratch on her cheek.

Ririka can see the fury in her scowl and the fear in her eyes.

“Sorry, I…” Ririka falters. “I didn’t mean to damage your bicycle.”

Mary tsks.

“Who cares about that damn thing?” Mary shouts. “What matters is that you’re still in one piece!”

Ririka doesn’t expect Mary to envelop her in a crushing bear hug. “You nearly gave me a freaking heart attack.”

“I’m… I’m sorry,” Ririka says. For a second, with the wind knocked out of her, Ririka is too stunned to return her hug.  She shivers a bit when Mary breathes out, breath harsh and ragged against her neck. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“I know you didn’t.” Mary deepens their hug. “But, ugh! I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you…”

Already hoarse from her earlier shouting, Mary’s voice cracks a little come her final words.

Ririka’s hands tremble when she gently tugs on the back of Mary’s blouse. After a moment, Mary pulls back, and it’s all Ririka can do, to face the blunt truth with open eyes.

It’s the first time she has ever seen Mary look so afraid. Her lower lip is quivering, and though she’s trying her hardest to look strong, the corner of her amber eyes are already beading with unshed tears.

In the aftermath, Ririka bites her lip and keens in quiet despair. She had thought that they left the noise of those dark days from Hyakkaou behind them, but ghosts yet remain.

It sticks out of them still, jagged edges protruding like spokes in a mangled wheel—the violence of their life before, and the scars left behind by each inflicted wound, of abandonment and betrayal, of distrust and guilt.

Gentle as a prayer, Ririka cups the sides of Mary’s face with both her hands. Ririka gazes into Mary’s eyes now as her fingertips delicately trace the soft cartilage of Mary’s ears. I’m sorry, Ririka thinks, when her lips taste salt against the soft skin of Mary’s cheek.

We are more than the sum of our hurt, Ririka thinks, and leans forward to kiss her forehead. You are the one who taught me that.

Lovingly, she wipes away the remainder of Mary’s tears with her thumb. When next Ririka speaks, their noses brush, and her breath ghosts against Mary’s lips. “I love you,” Ririka says. “I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful next time.”

“You better.” Mary harrumphs. Suppressing a sniffle, she levels Ririka with the most scathing of glares. “Or else I’ll raise you from the dead just to kick your ass one last time.”

“I’ll be okay,” Ririka reassures her. Mary means well, Ririka knows. Her anger is a thing of fleeting beauty, like embers from a bonfire flaring up into the night sky.

“I’m not going anywhere. “Ririka’s cheeks dimple in a smile as she raises her pinky finger up towards Mary to pinky-swear. “I promise you this.”

And there it is again, another promise between them, another leap of faith.

Emotions flit vividly across Mary’s face at the sight. Soon, Mary’s scowl eases into an exasperated smile.

“You Momobami and your damn promises,” Mary chides. By now, her eyes are dry. She interlocks their pinky fingers with a roll of her eyes.

“Alright, how many fingers am I holding up?” Mary asks her soon after.  

Going cross-eyed from staring, Ririka frowns at the digit Mary holds up in front of her face.

“...Just one,” Ririka answers mildly.

Sighing in relief, Mary tucks her hand into the back pocket of her jeans. “It was a trick question. Alright, I don’t think you’re concussed, at least.”

“I’m okay, Mary,” Ririka insists, her expression growing determined. “Really, I am.”

“That’s what they all say. I needed to check at least, to make sure!”

“…Worrywart,” Ririka teases.

“Concerned girlfriend,” Mary corrects her, hands on her knees as she makes to stand up.

Ririka’s eyes widen in soft surprise.

“Concerned girlfriend,” Ririka repeats, heart swelling with fondness at how it sounds spilling from both their lips. Ririka can’t help but smile up at her as she takes Mary’s outstretched hand.


She scraped a knee and cut her cheek during the fall. Though just minor injuries, Mary had insisted that she sit on a park bench and dutifully wait while she goes to fetch medical supplies from a nearby convenience store.

Mary fusses over her now, her concerned girlfriend, Ririka thinks with a pleased smile. The antiseptic stings, both on her cheek, and upon her knee. And though Mary grumbles all throughout, she is so earnestly attentive in her ministrations that it is impossible for Ririka not to smile all throughout.

When Mary is done, she glances quickly, left-to-right, then leans down to kiss her bandaged knee.

She hastily rolls the fabric of Ririka’s pant leg back down afterwards, and when she peeks up at Ririka, her cheeks flush the most vibrant shade of red. Ririka blinks in surprise and an answering blush fast rises to her own cheeks.

How rare it is, Ririka thinks, to see Mary shy for once. At the sight, Ririka’s cheeks dimple in a shy, rosy smile. Hit by a spike of playfulness, she holds Mary’s gaze with great intent, then taps her bandaged cheek with her index finger.

Realization dawns on Mary, quick as a flash. “G-geez!” Mary grouses at Ririka’s wordless request. Blush darkening, she dutifully acquiesces with a quick peck.

Before Mary can pull back entirely, Ririka lays her hands on Mary’s face and yanks on the collar of her button-up blouse. Where words fail, Ririka hopes her actions do enough talking for the both of them.

Her first kiss is sweet and chaste, almost like she’s asking for permission.

Let me show you, Ririka thinks now as her thumb traces the corner of Mary’s mouth. Let me show you how much you mean to me.

Never one to back down, Mary rises up to meet Ririka with fervor. So much has happened just today, Ririka thinks. So much has happened, and every moment of their life together feels like a new adventure.

When Ririka finally breaks their kiss, Mary is breathless and grinning crookedly at her. Ririka’s heart swells with pride at the sight of her lip-gloss smeared against the side of Mary’s mouth.

It’s entirely instinctual, how she reaches out to gently wipe the side of Mary’s mouth. Her hand lingers on Mary’s cheek when she is done. Reverently, she traces the shape of her lips with her thumb, then cups the side of Mary’s jaw, so as to admire that awestruck look upon her face.

“That was a cheap shot, Momobami,” Mary teases her, then cranes her head to playfully bite Ririka’s index finger, just the tip. Ririka inhales sharply at the sight, as a spark of want shoots up, straight to her core. Mary’s long blond hair is wild and windswept. In Ririka’s eyes, she looks like the most beautiful woman in the world.

She’ll have to pay Mary back later for that, Ririka thinks, body already thrumming at the though. Tenfold. But that will have to wait for now.

“Oh?” Ririka smiles coyly at her. Her tone the picture of innocence, she retracts her hand to rest it upon her chest, seemingly affronted at the accusation.

“Yeah! You know what? Two can play that game.” Mary says, and it’s all the warning Mary gives before she surges forward to pick Ririka up, bridal-style.

Ririka squeals, delighted and surprised in equal measure.

Let the ghosts stand in our way, she thinks, giggling in Mary’s hold. We have the rest of our lives to figure it out.



Their apartment starts out stark, with just the bare essentials for living and cooking. Spartan. Unbidden, the word springs to Ririka’s mind before she briskly ushers it out the door.

It’s home here regardless, Ririka thinks as she settles against Mary’s side with a pleased hum. They sit beside each other on the floor, knees jostling under the checkered quilt of the kotatsu. On cold days, the humble heating element feels like a godsend. Their little television set, perched atop an old, rickety table-top, watches them do their coursework together.

Before long, Mary lets out a full-bodied yawn then stretches her arms overhead, limber as a cat.

It’s all the warning she gives Ririka before plopping unceremoniously sideways, into Ririka’s lap. So startled is Ririka that she yelps out in surprise, and accidentally tosses the pen she had been holding over her shoulder.

“How long have you been studying?” Mary asks wryly as she stares up and into Ririka’s eyes. There’s a playfulness to her this evening—Ririka can sense it in curl of her grin. “You know what? I think it’s high time for a break.”

A break will do them some good, Ririka thinks with a smile.

Besides, dinner will be ready soon. They are having curry tonight, and wafting over from the kitchen stove, Ririka can smell the pleasant aroma of a litany of different flavors.

Ririka stares adoringly down at the girl in her lap. “They always said you were a bad influence,” Ririka teases as her fingers lovingly tuck stray strands of blonde hair behind Mary’s ear.

They?” Mary harrumphs and crosses her arms. “Who is this ‘they’?”

Action and reaction have always been hallmarks of their relationship. It’s a calculated move on both their parts. When Ririka deliberately turns away from Mary’s probing stare, Mary bares her teeth up at her in a snarl.

“Ririka…!” Mary scowls, and it sounds equal parts a whine as it is a warning. And it sounds like the most adorable thing in the world—so much so that Ririka can’t help but giggle in sweet amusement.

At Ririka’s lack of a proper response, Mary decides to take matters into her own hands (quite literally). Mary’s hands are warm as they creep under the hem of Ririka’s shirt. Soon, her fingertips brush, feather-light against the sensitive patch of soft skin below Ririka’s ribs.

“Wait!” Ririka yelps out. Laughter spills out as she flails about. Her body wriggles this way and that, squirming like a worm. “Mary!”

“You brought this on yourself, Momobami!” Mary says, blasé to Ririka’s plight. Voice brimming with cheekiness, she redoubles her efforts at tickling.

It’s effective. So much so that Ririka finds herself tipping backwards in her haste to get away.

Not one to let an opening go to waste, Mary takes advantage of the situation by clambering on top of Ririka and redoubling her assault.

Turnabout is fair play, Ririka thinks through her laughter and tears. Not one to take such an affront lying down, Ririka locks her legs around Mary’s waist then pivots her body for some revenge of her own! Soon, it’s Mary’s turn to shriek out in surprise and trash about.

Laughter peals into the air, sweet as morning dew as they lie, tangled on the floor and in each other’s arms.



“Do you miss it?” Mary asks her later that night, in bed.

Elbow propped on her pillow, she looks down at Ririka. It’s a complicated expression Mary is wearing. She asks one question, but Ririka can see the world turn in the vivid irises of her gold eyes, cast aglow in the wan light of their night lamp. Already on the verge of sleep, Ririka closes her eyes in consideration of her question. Humming, she thinks.

Etched indelibly in her mind like ink carved into skin is a memory of twin sets of samurai armor and katana in proud, symmetric display. In one of the Momobami estate’s many rooms, she and Kirari sit side-by-side in seiza upon the tatami-mat flooring.

In unison, they gaze intently, expressions impassive as their grandmother reaches for a blade on display. A dangerous grace underpins her every action.

Framing her back, and illuminated by dim candlelight is the black and gold painting of a great, burning tree. Bitter in the air, a promise hangs as she unsheathes a steel katana from its scabbard.

A thousand lessons, they have been taught in this very room—about hierarchy and power and discipline; about the ways of the world, and what one must do, to stand atop it.

Today, they are not alone.

A man lies prostrate before the towering woman. “Mercy,” he pleads with her, his forehead pressed to the tatami-mat floor. “Oyabun, I beg you.”

In answer, she says not a word.

There is no need for words, not when the sheer might of her intent saturates the entire room they are in. What is power? She had asked her granddaughters once. Respect, Ririka had said, at the same time Kirari had said control.

All their grandmother had done then, was smile without mirth. Close, but not quite, she had said. True power comes from total subjugation: heart, mind and soul.

Towards their education, she is nothing short of fastidious, but there is no tenderness behind it. They are vessels for her legacy; a means to an end. Does the rest matter? Ririka is a child, and what she understands of them, of the Momobami family is exactly that.

Here and now, their matriarch throws dice at the man’s feet so that he may decide his own fate. Hands, feet, ears. They line up to each corresponding face of the dice.He does as he is instructed, all through his tears.

In Ririka’s lap, her fingers clasp tight. There is perhaps nothing at all remarkable about this man, Ririka thinks. Except for the amount of sweat he is able to produce. Despite this, it takes all of Ririka’s willpower not to cry at the sight.

Quick as it is brutal, his punishment is meted out. The blade arcs through the air with a morbid grace, swift as a guillotine. And then there’s blood. And then there’s screaming before two men remove him from the room, dragging him by his armpits.

Behind him the shoji doors slide shut, but the delicate barrier of wood and paper makes a poor bulwark against his hysterical screaming. Distance helps though. And soon, his voice grows faint until it vanishes entirely. Out of sight and out of mind, he returns to being just another faceless body.

Discipline,” their grandmother says without malice as she turns to face them both.

She wipes the blood away with a cloth before sheathing the blade back in its scabbard. And once more, the katana is returned to its place of honor and prominence.

She makes no mention of the blood on the floor.

How many layers of flooring will it seep through, Ririka thinks in despair, before someone comes to mop it up?

She snaps her fingers, and a lieutenant comes forward dutifully bearing her kiseru, already loaded with tobacco on a black, lacquered tray. She lights one end of the thin smoking pipe with an elegant silver lighter stashed in a sash of her kimono, then takes a languid puff. She blows a smoke ring out: one ring, then two.

The third passes through the first two—an old parlor trick, to lighten the mood. The sight used to make Ririka giggle. Ah, but she’s too old now for such childish displays.

She gives her granddaughters a wry smile as her eyes flit between them, before dismissing them both with a wave of her hand.

Ririka bows to respectfully signal her departure, and only then does she dare to look away.

It can be hard to run while wearing a kimono. It can be hard to breathe in one, too. Ririka tucks two fingers into the collar of the silk fabric and yanks the cloth back, away from the clammy skin of her neck. There her hand rests, clenched into a fist in a futile attempt to still her pounding heart.

It is only when out of earshot and eyeshot—when she is in an entirely different wing of the Momobami estate, when she has stepped out of the maddening labyrinth of corridors and walls—does Ririka allow herself to show weakness.

It is only when Ririka retreats to the koi pond does she let the sound of running water swallow her tears. The fish pay her anguish no mind. In a frenzied horde, they swarm her reflection thinking she will feed them. To their great disappointment, salt is all that falls into the water.

She does not notice that Kirari has followed her until she spies her twin’s warbled reflection in the water. Her blue eyes are sparkling, but this time, not with mirth. For once, she finds Kirari’s expression, right down to her smile, entirely unreadable.

Kirari does not say that if the man is lucky enough to make it to the hospital in time, perhaps his limb can be reattached. Kirari does not speak at all, not in support of their grandmother, or in condemnation of her.

She stays with Ririka though, until the tears stop and her breathing returns to normal. And then Kirari hands her a silk handkerchief to wipe away the blood spattered across her face.

The grounds of the old Momobami estate are forever steeped in the blood of tradition. A thousand lessons, she has been taught—all of which Ririka would much rather forget.


When Ririka opens her eyes once more to their apartment, her heart aches in a way that makes her shudder terribly. She does not notice how bad she is trembling until she is coaxed into Mary’s arms.

Cocooned in Mary’s embrace, and surrounded by the familiarity of her scent, the ghosts of Ririka’s past slink back into the shadows.

How long was I gone? Ririka thinks as she takes large gulps of air. She is a different person now compared to who she was before, but like a riptide, sometimes the pain still bears her away.

When one feels lost, even a short moment can feel like an eternity spent drowning. Mary holds her close until Ririka is fully grounded once more in the reality of their present. Slowly, the past ebbs away, replaced instead with the fiercely protective sense of Mary’s love.

“Hey, you good?” Mary speaks softly, her lips grazing Ririka’s temple.

“I… I am now.” Ririka gathers strength slowly as she curls gingerly into the warmth of Mary’s body.

Do you miss it? Mary had asked. There is no doubt in Ririka’s mind that Mary was thinking of something else entirely when she first posed the question: fineries aplenty and servants at their beck and call.

And to that end, Ririka wants to tell her this: that paradise was only ever a shimmering mirage.

To be a Momobami is to live with the Sword of Damocles hanging precariously overhead. Right from the moment they were born, they were despised and feared for their power, more than they were ever loved.

Ririka bites her tongue to quell the urge to speak. There are still so many things she wants to tell Mary, but some wounds still feel too fresh to expose to the world. For now, Ririka shelves the hard, brittle truth and reaches instead for the soft comfort of Mary’s hand.

In the dim light of their bedroom, Ririka traces the lines of Mary’s palm like a blind man divining a braille tome. Gentle and slow, the years between them come trickling back. Quietly, Ririka marvels at the serendipity of how they had stumbled like blind fools into each other’s arms, and once there, chose to remain.

Ririka thinks of life now together with Mary in their humble apartment, and how it feels as much a sanctuary as a home, and she means it with all her heart when she says, “I don’t miss it. Not one bit.”

Ririka can feel Mary’s breath catch and her heartbeat stutter. Worried for a split-second, Ririka extricates herself from Mary’s hold. When she gazes up at Mary though, all her worries fall away. Mary is smiling at her, jaunty and beautiful.

Ririka can’t help the answering smile that fast rises to her own face. In the gold flecks of Mary’s irises, she sees reflected all the colors of the world. It’s that lovestruck look that carves another groove into Ririka’s heart, and stays.

Ririka thinks of Mary’s firecracker smile and a tongue so sharp, sometimes it feels like Ririka will cut herself when they kiss. And by now, the ache in Ririka’s chest feels like an altogether different pain from before. An end and a beginning, Ririka thinks. An overture tipping over into an interlude, a promise and a leap of faith, with no end in sight.

I chose love, Ririka thinks. Heart brimming with fierce devotion, she laces their hands together. I chose you. I’ve never once regretted it. I don’t think I ever will.