Disclaimer: I own one bedroom-slash-storage-facility; four biros; one full personal organizer and some boringly square post-its. Nothing more, nothing less.
A/N: This is the sequel to my 2005 fic A Ship Sailing Over the Edge of the World (FFN id: 2381034), and I fully expect some people to hate me for this. To them, I say only an intellectual "Nyer." To others … I'm sorry?
Forget Everything I Ever Told You
© Scribbler, December 2006.
This slip of a girl has slipped right through,
And now I don't know what to do.
I know most anyone would walk away,
But there's something about
This slip of a girl that's making me stay.
You know that
I'd do anything for you now,
I'd do anything for you,
Just to see you look at me now baby.
Just a slip of a girl.
-- © Slip of a Girl, by Duke Special (2006).
Anzu's room was pale yellow. That was the first thing Yuugi noticed. He'd expected it to be pink and silver, like at her old house when they were kids. It was stupid, but he'd still expected it. The giant poster of Anna Pavlova was missing, but the dresser was the same. Like always, pots of creams and make-up ranged across it, taking up every available space. All the way around the mirror were post-it notes shaped like puckered lips, each bearing a message in Anzu's neat handwriting.
"I, um…" Meron, Anzu's mother, gestured flaccidly into the room. "The shoebox."
Yuugi nodded, but couldn't say anything around the lump in his throat. He didn't really want to go in, but steeled himself and stepped onto the plush yellow carpet. It felt less like invasion than he'd thought it would, but only a little.
"I'll … leave you alone," said Meron, and then added in a rush, "I'm so glad you came over, Yuugi. It sounds stupid, but I didn't want to touch it after I first found it, and the idea of just pushing bits through your door felt so inappropriate..." Her voice died away.
The door clicked shut.
Anzu's room was a combination of order and excessive untidiness, as though someone had been through half the drawers and flung everything onto the bed and floor, or was in the process of picking things up to put them away. It had a half-finished vibe, which made Yuugi feel like he'd interrupted something important. Probably he had, but he reminded himself that Meron had called him. He hadn't even wanted to come over until Yami badgered him into it.
He approached the bed like it might rise up and steal his soul. His heart pounded like a jackhammer, so much so that he perched on a vacant bit of duvet and stopped to catch his breath, all the while staring at the decorated shoebox Meron had pointed out.
Anzu's shoe collection was legendary. She used to say that no matter what life threw at you, you could always count on a good pair of shoes. Usually that got a head-scratch from her guy friends, who put it down to X chromosomes and glazed over until she stopped talking. Not even Yuugi could understand her yearning for expensive imported sandals she could only wear four months of the year when new Duel Monsters cards were released every month.
This shoebox had 'Prada' printed on the side, and 'with love from Daddy' written on the lid. It'd been a gift one time when he couldn't make it back from Florida for Anzu's birthday. Yuugi recognised it and the image it summoned to his mind; that brittle smile Anzu wore when her mother presented her with it at her fifteenth birthday party. Gingerly he lifted the lid off and looked inside at the complicated tangle of things. Instantly, his eyes fogged up with tears. He brushed them away, determined not to blub.
This shoebox held every scrap of paper every traded between them. Each note passed in class, each handwritten letter – even a few longer emails had been printed, folded and put in here. The trail of their friendship was mapped out in excruciating detail, right back to one of the two Polaroids taken backstage at Anzu's dance recital, when she'd dragged Yuugi into the dressing room and forced him to pose in her picture as a memento for coming when her parents couldn't. There were articles about his duelling victories, which Anzu had carefully clipped out of local and national newspapers, and ticket stubs from when they went to the water park together. Poking out from under a Battle Ship security pass was a snapshot of the whole gang taken at Kaiba Land. Everyone was smiling, and Yuugi's own eyes were so round with delight at being surrounded by his friends that it was easy to tell who was in control.
And on top of it all sat a small sealed envelope addressed simply 'To Yuugi'.
He picked it up, and then spent a moment wondering whether he should open it. This shoebox was obviously very private. He'd never seen it before. Despite it being addressed to him, finding it here made Yuugi feel like he was invading Anzu's privacy in some deep and horrible way.
When he did tear it open his movements were quick and sharp – almost brutal. Inside was a single sheet of neatly folded notepaper, both sides covered in the same handwriting as the post-its. Yuugi spent longer unfolding this and read it in silence.
Dear Yuugi,I'm not sure you'll ever read this, so I don't know why I'm writing it. Perhaps I'm not writing it for you at all. Perhaps I'm just writing it for me, so I can look in the mirror and know I've been totally honest with myself. When I told my counsellor in New York I was moving back to Domino for a while, she wanted me to write a diary – she thinks writing stuff down will help me deal with it and speed my recovery – but I can't even remember to check my phone messages. I'd be useless at filling in a diary every day. You should know, Yuugi; we've been missing each other's calls for days. I recently made dinner arrangements with your answering machine, and I've spent the last hour getting ready to meet you at Pepito's. I think that might be what made me write this letter. You know me and timekeeping – if I'm on time for once, what do I do? Decide to write a letter I may never send. But if I want I can just hand it over to you, and then you'll know. Or I can put it away and never think about it again. A letter is much easier than a speech. I've never been good at rehearsing speeches. I'm a dancer, not an actress. Did you know all those 'friendship speeches' were done off the top of my head? They may not have sounded like it, but each one was different and thought up because of whatever situation we were in. And I meant every word, too. "Wait a second, skip back. Know what?" I hear you say. That's the million-dollar question, isn't it? I've known you a long time, Yuugi, and we haven't always been friends, but since our friendship started you've been this giant Yuugi-shaped rock in my life. I mean that in a good way. You're strong like a rock, not dumb as one. I knew I could always count on you – which wasn't always a good thing, actually, because it meant I could just as easily take advantage of you. I'm sorry for that. Those times we thought we'd lost you …
I can't even get the words right in a letter! This is so lame.
Right, start again.
Yuugi, when I met you I was not a nice person. If I was speaking to you this is the point where you'd try to argue, which is one of the plus points of doing it this way. It'd be simplistic to say that you totally changed me, but you really were the motivation behind any big changes in my personality. It was like I'd spent all my life acting out this role I thought I had to play, and then you came along and you just didn't. Either you didn't have a prearranged role, or you didn't follow your script. You made me feel different. You made me feel special even though I was a spoilt brat and didn't deserve the kind of kindness you showed me. Remember the Gameboy Incident? Sure you do. That was the turning point for me. Suddenly I got it, the whole friendship thing and how important it is. I guess that's why I was always the first the make with the 'friendship speech' when we were in trouble, because I already knew about how it can change a person or a situation and make it better.
I don't think I ever thanked you for making that change in me. I've been so much happier than I would've been if I'd grown up without you. Which brings me to the main point of this letter.
Yuugi, I realised a long time ago that I loved you. I think it started when Jounouchi and Honda carried you out of that burning warehouse. It was definitely there when Raphael took your soul and I thought I'd never see you again. Mortal peril has this way of sharpening your feelings so you can't ignore them unless you're doing it on purpose. Unfortunately, I did just that. There they were, all these huge feelings knocking around inside me, and what did I do? I buried my head in the sand. I liked being your friend too much to be anything else, so I ignored it whenever I looked at you and noticed stuff I wasn't supposed to notice. Like how you chew your bottom lip when you're ordering at McDonalds. Or how you always sit on the same sofa cushion, and practically run into the sitting room to make sure you get it. Or how your eyes shine so brightly at the thought of spending time with people you care about.
And now I sound like one of those trash teenage romance novels.
As always, my timing was terrible, because by the time I realised the extent of how I felt about you, so had Yami, and he'd bargained his way back from the afterlife to be with you. The AFTERLIFE!
I still remember the day he walked back into our lives, like he'd never been gone or lived anywhere else but in Domino, in his own body, with you. Do you remember, Yuugi? Do you remember looking up from the store counter and seeing him there? Do you remember how your eyes changed? They lost the forlorn look you'd been wearing since Egypt and became so intense, like the world had been wrong and suddenly it was right again.
I remember. I remember seeing it, and him, and all of a sudden this thought popped into my head. It went, 'No! Mine!" Not the best way to figure out you're in love with your best friend, is it? But that's me all over. I only realised how much I wanted you when I couldn't have you anymore. It was partly this as well as seeing Yami again that made me drop my new pair of pumps on the floor. I know you remember that, because you turned at the noise and looked at me and said, "You mean you see him too?" and I could see that intense look in your eyes. All that emotion, and he hadn't even said a word yet.
I knew right then – right that second! - that I couldn't compete with that. What's more, I knew I shouldn't even try. Frankly, Yuugi, with the way I treated you while you and he shared a body, I didn't have the right to compete with Yami. I didn't deserve you anymore.
I've never been the great friend you think I am. You look for the best in people, but I've actually been really selfish right from the beginning. I knew you had a crush on me, but I was so centred on keeping you as my friend so I could keep that special feeling, and I was so busy chasing after Yami that I didn't even entertain taking you seriously. I was wrong, and I didn't appreciate that in time, so when I finally did catch on, for the first time ever I could do something truly unselfish and not mess things up for you. Yami adores you. That hasn't changed. If anything, he's even more in love with you now than he was when he was trapped in the Millennium Puzzle. You're a good person, Yuugi. You deserve that kind of devotion, and I didn't have any right to spoil what you guys have.
I've held my tongue for years. It hasn't been easy, but I've done it. Sure, I've had regrets, but they're all selfish regrets, which is why I'll probably never send this letter. I've already written the envelope, but I think I might write another one instead. 'To Anzu, from Anzu'. That way I'll know I got it off my chest, which my counsellor would say is more important than letting you know anyway. Just another one of those loose ends I'm tying up, like my will and junk.
Except that putting it that way makes it sound all trivial, and it's not. Realising I love you was the most significant moment of my life, and despite it being really hard to deal with sometimes (especially in New York when I got emails telling me how happy Yami makes you feel, and how much you care for him) I wouldn't change it for the world. You will never know how I feel about you, nor this one proper act of friendship I've done, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
I won't be sending this letter. I've decided. I'm now going to seal the envelope and put it away, and then I'm going to finish getting ready for our dinner. I don't have to worry about the temptation to say something to you when I see you, because I've already put it down in writing, so technically I've already said it. Even this letter isn't that important now. What was important was writing it and put into words all these thoughts that've been jumbling up my brain. Maybe I'll even drop this down the sewer on the way to the restaurant. It doesn't matter. I've said what I wanted to say, and I've said it without messing up your life.
Well, no more than not telling you about the cancer. Boy, am I not looking forward to that part of tonight's conversation.
How am I meant to finish this letter? Yours faithfully? Sincerely? Just plain 'from'? I haven't written many letters before. The last one was to my dance school in New York, and Miss Odori helped me with that. Well, since I'm the only one who's ever going to read it, I guess I'll just put what I always put on my emails and ignore the double meaning.
See you later, Yuugi. Promise me you'll forget what I just said. In fact, forget everything I ever told you. You're my best friend, and that's enough for both of us.
You'd better not be late tonight, Moptop. ;)
Yuugi stared at the letter for several minutes. He turned it over and read it through again, and then carefully folded it up and put it back in its envelope. This he held onto – tightly. So tightly he scrunched up the corners.
Why hadn't Anzu changed the envelopes like she said she would? Why, after all that, had she put it into the one addressed to him?
Probably she'd become conscious of how late she was. He'd been late, and she'd arrived at the restaurant after him. Probably she'd just shoved the letter into the prepared envelope and put it into the shoebox to sort out later. Probably she'd then forgotten about it. Probably their dinner date had driven the letter from her thoughts, and she probably never thought to change the envelope or get rid of it before …
… before she died while brushing her teeth.
All at once Yuugi recalled every detail of that night's conversation. He remembered driving her home and that weird bit when he dropped her off, with Janis Joplin yelling through the crackly speakers that, "freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose!" He remembered how Anzu abruptly switched it off, talked about things changing, and looked at him. He'd thought it was because of the cancer. He'd thought the changes were those irrevocable effects on her career and love of dancing. She'd let him think that.
Had she wanted to say something? Had this letter been in her purse? Had she kept it with her and put it in the shoebox only when she'd successfully resisted the urge to tell him how she felt? Had she, during that strained moment, been contemplating what he'd just read?
They're sitting in the car, rain streaming down the windows and the music suddenly gone.
"Are you okay?" Yuugi asks, immediately all concern. He makes as if to touch her, but something about the way she's sitting, hunched but straight-backed, makes him pause.
"Honestly?" she says. "Not exactly double-dip Rocky Road, end-of-the-sale frenzy. But close." Then she makes a strange noise, like a cat with a broken leg jolting the damaged limb. It seems completely involuntary – she doesn't even open her mouth. "I'm scared, Yuugi. I'm scared of things … changing."
'I never realised' she'd written. He never realised, either. Not until it was too late. Yami was his soulmate. He couldn't imagine spending his life with anyone else. And yet … if Anzu had said something, how would he have reacted?
He couldn't honestly say. And anyway, it was too late now. All hypothetical. She hadn't said anything. He wasn't meant to know. That was what her letter said – she hadn't wanted him to know.
Except that he did now, and that … that had to change things.
He lays a hand on her shoulder, forgetting everything he's ever learned about making promises to control the uncontrollable. She's frightened. It scares him into doing something stupid.
He promises her she'll be okay.
She's been avoiding his gaze, but finally looks at him – quick and without hesitation, like she's ripping off a band-aid. "Yuugi," she murmurs, as though the word is all she has left.
Yuugi's brain had gone on a nice vacation somewhere. It was pleasant and pastel-coloured and he didn't have to process the fact that his best friend had posthumously declared her love for him, nor the fact that she'd been sitting on that declaration for several years and he might never have known about it, were it not for her mother accidentally finding this shoebox thrust at the back of her wardrobe.
"Yuugi, could you, um – could you come over? I think I've … no, I've definitely found something you might want to … to … um … Yuugi, she left a letter for you. I don't know what it says, I haven't … um … I mean I didn't want to … please come over? I think it might be important."
Yuugi had been called a lot of things in his life, but the one that cropped up most often was 'innocent'. Nevertheless, the irony didn't escape him that a pulmonary embolism had taken Anzu away from him. She had literally died of a broken heart.
Someone has thoughtfully left the porch light on. It flickers over them, refracted by raindrops and swept from side to side by the wipers. Only the strip of Anzu's eyes is visible. In the pale light and dripping shadows it's difficult to tell if they're as full of tears as they seem.
Then Anzu pulls away, turns her face aside, and the moment is broken.
Yuugi put the envelope back and replaced the lid. He half got to his feet, then changed his mind and grabbed the shoebox, but his hands were trembling. Clumsily, he knocked the whole thing to the floor. All Anzu's painstakingly collected memories scattered across the carpet, jingling as they fell. Ticket stubs and scraps of old gift-wrap; newspaper clippings and crumpled notes; good luck charms; sweet papers; photographs of the gang, of Anzu's twelfth birthday, of ten-year-old Yuugi the day he came out of hospital, of the two of them together, all smiles and linked elbows and implicit pinkie-swears … and the envelope with his name on it.
"See you around, Yuugi."
Yuugi wasn't even aware of the tears falling, but once he started he couldn't stop. He just sat on her bed, looking at the mess and sobbing like he'd break in two.
He hadn't realised. It changed everything, and it changed nothing.
I don't think I ever thanked you.
I've held my tongue for years.
Like the world had been wrong and suddenly it was right again.
You will never know how I feel about you.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
I won't be sending this letter.
Forget everything I ever told you.
Love from Anzu.
Can't put this off forever,
I've got to tell you sometime,
But when I try and say it
My mouth just gives up and dies.
I'm not who you think I am,
I slipped a stranger inside.
It helps the nights go quicker,
But I diminish each time.
-- © Last Night I Nearly Died (But I Woke Up Just in Time), by Duke Special (2006).