Let's go shopping, she'd said. It'll be fun, she'd said.
And Chihiro had agreed, but was now desperately regretting her decision. Kyo had always seemed a little strange to Chihiro, a little familiar, but always distant. They had become reluctant friends in middle school out of necessity, both being new students from out of town and without a ring of childhood friends for protection. But even then, Chihiro remembered, they had never really taken to each other, and now, ten years later and visiting over the summer before her last year of university, Chihiro couldn't think of one meaningful thing about her. In fact, Chihiro would have likened her to a ghost if she hadn't stopped throwing that word around thoughtlessly years ago.
But she'd agreed to go shopping anyway because there was something binding about knowing someone – anyone – for an extended amount of time. And though she and Kyo had never really clicked, Chihiro could not shake the feeling that now, walking behind her as she scoured the clothing racks or peeked excitedly into shops, that she was more familiar than ever before.
"What about this one?" It was a recycled, feverish question, but Chihiro answered it anyway.
"No, thanks. I'm not really looking for anything."
A pout. "But it would look so good on you." Kyo held the shirt up to her own chest and twirled around a bit. "Do you like it?"
"Yeah, it's fine."
Chihiro noticed how the harsh fluorescent lights of the store made Kyo's eyes look red beneath the layers of purple eye shadow.
"You like it," Kyo stated for her, holding it in front of Chihiro now. She watched her face eagerly. "You do! Don't worry about the cost. Do you want it?" Kyo waved her off before Chihiro could reply. "Of course you do. I'll get it for you."
It was like that in every store, and no matter how much she protested, Chihiro always seemed to leave with one more bag full of things she didn't really need.
"What about this for me, Chihiro?" Kyo asked once, feeling the fabric of a dress.
Chihiro didn't know what Kyo expected her to say so she shrugged and decided on, "it suits you, I guess."
Kyo blinked at her twice in surprise, and then, with a fixed smile and empty eyes, looked back to the dress. "It suits me," she repeated.
And then, like a piece of paper folding in on itself, Kyo's face crumbled just the slightest bit. Looking down at the material in her hands, the artificial gleam in her eye dimmed, her smile slipped, and even the black of her hair seemed to gray. It lasted only a moment, but Chihiro had seen it. And in that moment, Chihiro knew why her words had bothered her friend. Kyo was fluid, always trying to please. She didn't actually know what "suited her" or what she liked because she didn't belong to herself at all.
And there was that familiar gut feeling again, along with the pity, and Kyo felt so oddly familiar then that Chihiro was quite glad when they exited the store and their conversation shifted to lunch.
Kyo ended up buying both of their meals, and when those were done, went back for seconds. But Chihiro was full, and Kyo was empty, so when her friend had finished her second lunch, Chihrio gladly offered hers. The conversation was stale, and it cycled through the normal topics, like university and family and future plans, and the more she talked, the more Chihiro was convinced that she'd seen Kyo somewhere before other than middle school.
"I don't know," Kyo said once when the conversation stumbled onto relationships. "I just can't seem to keep one going. And that doesn't make sense to me because I'm like the perfect partner. I give them everything, but they never stay." Then Kyo looked up sharply, wiping some rice off of her chin. "Do you like me, Chihiro?" There was an intensity in her eyes, like this was the most important question of both of their lives.
Chihiro, thrown off by her earnestness, struggled for a moment with what to say. But again, it didn't really matter because Kyo was already talking.
And what she said next was the missing puzzle in Chihiro's mind. Kyo's shoulders fell forward, and her face was folding once more, and in a quiet, defeated voice, she said, "I'm so lonely."
And then it made sense. Chihiro wasn't sure if it was the black hair, or the purple eye shadow, or the shopping, or the eating, or the loneliness, but suddenly Chihiro understood why Kyo seemed so familiar. Why didn't she see it earlier? If they existed in the Spirit World, then of course they'd exist here, too. Her gaze softened and she reached for Kyo's hand across the table, filled with a sudden sense of simultaneous wonder and pity that she couldn't hope to put into words.
But Kyo must have noticed the odd look on Chihiro's face, because she withdrew a little and said, "what? Why are you looking at me like that?"
Chihiro shook her head as she found her voice. "Nothing, it's nothing." But when Kyo wouldn't drop it, she gave in and told her truthfully, ambiguously, "really, it's nothing. You just remind me of someone I thought belonged to a different world."
(A/N: Thank you for reading! As always, any criticism or thoughts in general are much appreciated.)