Showerbrooding, part one
by Jon Carp
jcarp@med.unc.edu






Since we first met, not an hour has passed that she has not crossed my thoughts.

Wake up. Shiori. Fix my hair. Shiori. Go to class. Shiori. Practice. Shiori. Eat lunch. Shiori. Shiori. Shiori.

My heart broke whenever I thought of her. I wish that I could phrase that in a less cliched, childish manner, but how else can I put it? She forced herself into me with such fire and intensity, it was difficult to keep from sobbing my way through each day.

That is, until a month ago. A month ago, when a foolish prince stabbed me through the heart, and a cruel miracle told me everything was going to be okay.

Talk with Miki. Shiori. Practice. Shiori. Go bowling. Shiori.

She still won't leave me alone, but it's different now. The pain is gone, replaced by a mere itch. Just the memory of torture remains.

Is this what it's like to not be in love?




I smiled as he sat across from me, and he responded with a friendly, but polite, "Juri-sempai."

We ate in silence for a few minutes. He looked oddly nervous, but covered it behind his normal exterior. Probably only someone who knows him well could even tell.

"I saw you sparring with Shiori yesterday in practice," I remarked, trying to subtly steer his thoughts away from whatever was bothering him.

He nodded. "She really is amazing. She almost beat me. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that your friend has a talent for it."

She really WAS good, and it made me burn with pride to hear him say it out loud. But I couldn't let myself dwell on it. I just nodded, and there was a silence once again. His soft agitation had only increased.

"Are you thinking of Himemiya?" I asked softly.

He blushed, and nodded. I smiled. "How often do you think of her?"

"Only once in a while," he replied. "I hope she's okay out in the real world."

"She can take care of herself," I said. "Utena saw to that."

He hung his head slightly; obviously he missed them both. "I thought the campus would... feel different without them," he said quietly. "She did revolutionize the world, after all."

I smirked cynically. "She was the victor, she put us to shame," I remarked, "and yet we get the glory. I guess that's how it works."

As if on cue, Utena's odd, brown-haired friend walked into the cafeteria, followed by her usual entourage. There was the boy with the brown hair (what was his name again?), several faceless, female followers, and a small horde of drooling males. She stopped at our table and grinned at us.

"Hi, Juri-sempai, Miki-kun!" she nearly squealed. "I had a small break between basketball practice and drama club, so I decided to get a bite to eat. Hey, do you know about our performance on Friday?"

Miki opened his mouth to reply, but she cut him off.

"It's going to be SO great. You should come! Student council members get in free, so come by! Oh, and we have a volleyball game on Thursday, you should see us, we're really good since I joined! And on Wednesday..."

She continued to babble loudly, until the boy with the brown hair (what WAS his name?) tapped her on the shoulder and told her she only had ten minutes to spare. She shrieked and muttered a hasty goodbye before running off towards the food. Her followers trailed behind her.

Miki and I didn't speak for a few moments. Wakaba's exuberence irked me greatly, but I had to admit that her sudden change was nothing short of miraculous. She shone so brightly... Utena must have had something to do with it.

And for a brief second, I hated Utena. Such naivete... she had saved Anthy and still had enough left to somehow energize her friend. Such nobility.

I relaxed a bit, basking in the comfortable silence between Miki and me. I watched him take a bite of his sandwich and felt myself smile.

The silence continued.

He broke it slowly, as if afraid. "Juri-sempai?" he murmured uncomfortably, not making eye contact.

"Yes?"

He continued to look past me. "Something happened today."

I frowned, and put my sandwich down. "What?"

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. "I was given this."

For a terrifying second I thought it was a letter from the Ends of the World. But then I looked closer at the soft pink stationary and smelled the perfume that had been dabbed on the paper. "Miki-kun," I said, smiling a bit, "it's a love letter."

"I know," he said. He looked extremely uncomfortable. "It's from Yomina Oaka."

It took me a second to match the name with a face, but only a second. "I know her," I said. "She's on the fencing club." She was my age, and had only joined this year. Very impressive for a novice. Extremely strong; I am far from a weakling, but her thrusts threaten to overpower me. She also seemed to be very intelligent; she never attacks with the same strategy twice. Only Miki, Shiori, and myself could beat her with regularity, and even we had a hard time with it, as these things go.

And though I had never really looked at her as anything but an opponent and a student, I had to admit that she was quite beautiful.

I smiled slyly. "What are you going to do?" I asked.

"I don't know," he replied. He looked absolutely miserable.

I wondered briefly, did his indecision stem from fear of what Kozue would think, or was he still clinging to the hope that Himemiya would come back?

"Sempai," he said softly, "she gave me the letter... to give to you."

Now, to say that I was taken aback is an understatement. My thoughts focused mainly on Miki, for some reason. No wonder he was so hesitant. It must be an intimidating concept to meddle in my personal life. And the implications...

He knew.

And then came the fleeting image: Oaka, beautiful blue determined eyes as she lowers her mask and raises her sword...

Miki knew. Shiori. Oaka's beautiful eyes. Shiori.

I reached over and took the letter, holding it tight. I could smell the sweet perfume.

I looked straight into Miki's eyes. He looked back, expectantly. "What do you think I should do?" I asked.

His mouth fell open in an expression of absolute shock, to my dismay. I nearly cursed. Was I so shut tight that it would be surprising for me to ask my colleague, my friend, for advice? Is that what Shiori did to me?

I reached out and put my hand over his in what I hoped was a comforting gesture. He blushed, perhaps embarassed that he had been so embarassed. "She is very beautiful," he said.

I smiled broadly. "You're right." I glanced at the letter. "Oh, and she has nice handwriting. That's always attractive."

He grinned, obviously relieved I hadn't reacted badly. I wondered how much he knew, if he knew about Shiori. "Sometimes I wish you weren't so polite," I joked, deadpan. "I feel like a jack-ass, keeping a secret you already knew."

"I'll try to be more rude in your presence, sempai," he replied. "If you want, I'll go practice on Shiori-san."

I laughed, and it felt wonderful. So he did know.

I stood up and tucked the letter in my pocket. "I have to think about this," I said. "Thank you, Miki."

He smiled softly. "You're welcome, Juri-sempai. I will see you at the meeting tonight."

"Yes. Till then."

"Goodbye."






The details of the letter aren't important. It was highly personal, concise, sweet, and even a bit tongue-in-cheek. I read it several times, continually growing in respect for Yomina Oaka.

I could remember seeing her many places doing many things: dressing, standing in line, walking on campus, parrying one of my thrusts... but still that one image stood in the front of my mind. Determined blue eyes.

Of course she was determined, I thought. If she beat me, I would notice her.

I suddenly felt very strange.

I didn't like this feeling, whatever it was. I was suddenly reminded of a night so long ago (but NOT that long ago) when I tried to pull the rose signet off Utena's finger. She had been so charming, so innocent... she almost had me believing in miracles.

A knock at the door broke my reverie. I put the letter carefully down on my study desk and strode to answer the door.

Shiori stood on my doorstep, hands clasped in front of her, a demure smile on her face. Every time I see her, I'm surprised by how small she is... as if she was made to be held and protected.

"Hello, Juri-san," she said shyly.

My brain was itching frantically. "Shiori. Please come in." I steeled my nerves. We're friends now, nothing but old friends. "Would you like some coffee?"

"If you would be so kind, Juri-san."

I went into the kitchen to fill a mug, and when I returned she was still standing uncomfortably near the doorway. "Please sit down," I said, handing her the mug.

She perched herself lightly on the edge of the chair, ready, it seemed, to jump up and run from the room at any moment. I sat across from her, watching as she brought the mug up to her lips and sipped timidly. "It's good," she said. "You always brewed good coffee." I hadn't ever made her a cup of coffee before in my life.

"Thank you." A pause. "So, why did you drop by?"

"I... just wanted to see you, Juri-san. I saw you in the cafeteria earlier today, you were talking with Miki-kun, right?"

I nodded, still curious about her motives. She seemed so nervous.

She made brief eye contact over the rim of the mug. "You eat with him often, it seems." I don't know if the malice in her statement was imagined or not.

"Yes," I replied. "We... just discuss student council business."

She nodded. "I almost beat him yesterday, you know." She sounded like she was cofessing to a crime.

"I know, he mentioned it. Congratulations."

She nodded again and looked away. "There is a rumor that the council is going to decide their replacements for next year soon."

"That's right."

She raised an eyebrow and looked at me. "Have you decided who is going to replace you, Juri-san?"

I frowned, suspicious. "No, not yet," I answered.

She took another sip of coffee, closed her eyes, and sighed. "I'm sorry, that wasn't very tactful. I..." She trailed off, and I noticed a shining tear on her cheek.

My heart itched so much I thought it would explode. She opened her eyes again, and appeared to be trying, in vain, to keep from crying. "Juri-san," she whimpered, "do you think I'm special?"

I was by her side before I even knew it, wiping the tears off her cheek and whispering comfortingly. She looked up, her eyes were wide and agonized and agonizingly beautiful. "You and Miki-kun and Touga-san are so special," she whined, "and I don't think I can ever be like that."

"Yes, you can," I said, without even thinking.

"All I want is to be special, like you." She grabbed my hand tightly and gazed into my eyes. "That's all I ever wanted." Her head drooped, my heart ached. "But I messed it up. I'm just small and petty and I'll never be anything else."

I moved to embrace her, but she stood up and moved away. "I came here to ask to be your replacement on the student council," she said softly, looking at the wall. "It was stupid, I know. You'd never do that." She looked at me, and I think I saw hatred in her eyes amidst the sorrow.

She turned away again, the tears flowing freely now. "I'm sorry, Juri-san. Please don't hold this against me. It was a moment of weakness, nothing else." She walked quickly to the door and left without another word.

I noticed that her coffee had spilled all over the rug. Slowly, I went to the kitchen to get the seltzer.






I always enjoyed student council meetings. Despite my rigid appearance, I truly appreciated the relaxed atmosphere that Touga provided, and it was always amusing to watch poor Miki struggle against it with his personal formality.

Despite that, the encounter with Shiori weighed heavy on my mind as I approached the elevator. I was enraged, absolutely livid. It was nearly uncontrollable; I almost frowned as I stood, waiting for the others to arrive.

Miki came first, as I expected. He looked tired, in much lower spirits than that afternoon. Kozue was responsible, I assumed.
I do not like Kozue. I prefer not to think of her at all, truthfully. I would not want the line between her and Miki to become blurred in my mind.

True, she is cruel to her brother, but more than anything else, her weakness irks me. To be so affected.. ruined, even... by a single event in her childhood...

Well, like I said, I prefer not to think of her.

Miki and I nodded to each other, and we waited in silence.

Touga and Saionji were only ten minutes late. They strutted up to the elevator together, all sinewy muscle and sticky hair. Their shirts were undone and exposed their tight torsos.

Touga gave me and Miki a semi-serious look. "Are we ready to begin?"

Miki clicked his stopwatch and I merely smirked. We stepped into the elevator as a group.

I dreaded this meeting. A position on the council is gained through politics far more then merit; even I required Ruka's nomination to be a member. I scowled inwardly as we rode up in silence.

I normal adore the quiet, secluded nature of the student council's headquarters, but that night it grated my nerves like never before. I hid it perfectly, but I still yearned to finish this business up quickly.

Touga regarded me as we exited the elevator. "Why, Arisugawa, you look troubled."

Goddamn him.

"Do I?" I replied, not looking at him.

"Quite. I wonder if you have had trouble deciding on your replacement." He frowned as we sat around the table. "I've heard rumors that you're considering giving your position to Takatsuki Shiori."

I stared Touga down. "That is incorrect," I said simply.

Saionji waved his hand through the air dismissively. "It doesn't matter who our replacements are, anyway," he said. "They won't be duelists, and that's all that counts."

"Do we know that?" Miki asked meekly. "The chairman..."

"They won't be duelists," Touga interrupted with finality. I wondered briefly if he knew for sure, or if he was just defending Saionji.

There was a pause. Miki looked at his stopwatch, but did not break the silence by clicking it.

Touga leaned back in his chair. "Well, it seems that I am the only one who actually has a replacement in mind already. Besides Miki-san, of course."

Miki's replacement was Nanami, of course. Miki had the least power among us, and it was well known that Touga wanted his sister to be the new secretary. Miki never protested about this. I sometimes wonder about the two of them... but it is none of my business, so I have never asked.

Miki clicked his stopwatch. "Who is to be the new president, then?" he asked.

Touga grinned. "There is only one person who could properly fill my shoes," he replied. "Saionji Kyouchi."

I was surprised by his gall, but not the decision. Miki looked absolutely shocked. "But..." he stuttered for a bit, "the school's regulations clearly state that no one can be on the council two years in a row."

Touga smirked. "Due to the misunderstanding earlier this year and the vice-president's expulsion, I have decided to make an exception."

"What are you complaining about, anyway?" Saionji asked, not even looking directly at Miki. "You are all but guaranteed to be Arisugawa's vice-president a year from now. We all get our favor where we can."

"We do not all relish in it, though," I remarked, looking sideways at Saionji, and then at Touga.

Touga laughed. "Please, the duels are over. There's no need for tension between the four of us."

I was about to reply, but Saionji spoke before I had a chance to. "Ah, this is tiresome. If there is no further student council business, then let us adjourn."

Touga stood up with a flourish. "Agreed. We will settle this tomorrow evening." He waggled his finger at me and Saionji in mock-reproach. "I expect that we will all be ready?"

Saionji walked away. "Right, right," he muttered as he stepped into the elevator. Touga followed, and the two of them went down together.

I took a breath and let it out slowly. Without a word, Miki handed me a deck of cards, and I began to shuffle.






When I returned home that night, there was a message on my answering machine from Shiori, apologizing for her rudeness and arrogance. Her voice was unsteady; she was probably drunk.

I'd come to pity Shiori since I stopped loving her, and that hurt. Sighing, I erased her message and unplugged the telephone.

Not many people would guess it, but I sleep very little; usually only about three hours a night. The rest of my time is spent training, reading, watching films... even television I consider to be more worthwhile than lying in a bed, doing nothing.

This night, however, was different. It was nine o'clock when I changed into my nightgown and began sipping my mint tea, and the first thing I did was go directly to my desk and reread Oaka's letter.

I don't know why, but I felt the need to read it again. And again, and again. And eventually I stopped seeing words and paper at all, but rather blue eyes. Determined blue eyes.

The next thing I knew, I was groggily picking my head up off the desk. I ached all over, and I noticed, with dismay, that the letter was soaked with some kind of liquid and was illegible.

I glanced over at the clock, and it was six a.m.

The aching diminished quickly, and for some reason I felt lighter than usual. Even the minute effort of walking became subtly less.

Most unusual, however, were my thoughts. Normally in the morning I plan my schedule and perhaps review my curriculum (Shiori), but that day, as I dressed and fixed my hair, I could only seem to focus on one phrase, one idea.

"Today is going to be a good day."

To my amazement, it WAS.