It’s very easy to make sushi, if you know what you’re doing, that is. Time-consuming, yes, but once you get the hang of it, it’s mindless work. Ena knows this. Ena can make sushi in her sleep – and that’s pretty much what she’s doing now, swaying on her feet as she wraps the nori over the rice and completes another roll.
It’s about seven in the morning, with the sun just starting to peak over the trees outside the shop, chasing shadows back into dark corners. Ena hasn’t always gotten up early to prepare the morning sushi; up until she had graduated, she had only helped out after she had gotten home from school, and she never had the time when she had been in college. But now, with her education done and complete, she rises a few hours before her parents, just to see the city transition from night to day.
The first few rays of sun turns the white tiles of the floor a dull gold, a colour that bounces and paints her white apron a glowing amber and brings out the red, that isn’t noticeable otherwise, in her hair.
It isn’t just the visual satisfaction that Ena loves about the mornings – it makes her feel better about herself. By the time everyone else in the city has crawled out of their beds, pouring themselves coffee with shaky hands and bleary eyes, Ena has prepped the entire shop for the day, made countless sushi, and whisper-sung dozens of songs. Even if she doesn’t achieve much for the rest of the day, at least she has that.
There was a time, ever since before she could walk, when her mother would haul her up to sit on the bench, and she would ‘help’ roll up the little rolls of rice and fish in seaweed. Most of it ended up in her mouth rather than in the seaweed, but her mother never seemed to mind.
Now, at twenty-two, she was quite the master at it, eating none (well, only some) and making the most perfect rolls America had ever seen.
Her parents had owned a sushi bar – that also sold tofu, soda, and, if you felt like some, assorted biscuits and slices – since they had moved from Japan to America, when Ena was about four. Her memories from Japan were murky, just a handful of people and places, and America was just about everything she knew.
She had graduated early from high school, and taken a course at a college, but had returned to work for her parent’s sushi shop before long. Her parents had always encouraged her to go out, to explore, to take a journey around the world, but Ena always turned them down with a smile.
She was satisfied with her life. She didn’t have a girlfriend, but that didn’t worry her. She liked her job at the sushi store, creating a new recipe every couple of weeks, talking with the regulars or eavesdropping on her parents as they greeted a new-comer. She was shy enough to not have the urge to go out, but outgoing enough to be happy with her friends.
Ena was satisfied with her life.
And then, one day, the Australian girl walked in.
It had been raining that day, when the Australian walked in, with droplets in her hair and laughter in her eyes.
She looked Ena’s age, maybe a little older, but a few inches shorter. She had been wearing denim shorts and combat boots, showing off her lean legs, and a T-shirt that advertised some band that Ena had never heard of. She was freckled and tanned, but her nose and shoulders had a pink tinge, like she had only remembered to put on sunscreen a few hours into a hike or something. Her blue eyes reminded Ena of the lake at the park during summer, and her hair was a sun-bleached brown.
She was beautiful.
Ena had been flustered and stammered when she went to greet the girl like she greeted every customer, and when the girl had given her a smile that took her breath away, she gaped at her, pen freezing on her notepad. It was a miracle her jaw hadn’t dropped open.
‘Hey,’ the girl had said, ‘you sell some sushi here, right?’
Her accent was the first thing Ena had noticed about her words, and her first thought was she’s Australian. The second thing Ena noticed was her actual words, and they had confused her enough to snap her out of her muteness.
‘Do we sell sushi, you ask?’
The girl had given that smile again – toothy and wide, showing off a dimple – and nodded. Ena had frowned. The sign out the front of the shop was in Japanese, yes, but there was a bigger sign under that sign, in English that stated ‘Sushi Bar’ in bold letters.
Not to mention that their showcase was filled with hundreds of sushi, in plain sight.
‘Uh. Yes. We do sell sushi here.’ Her words sounded wary even to her.
To her surprise, the girl had just laughed (Ena felt her face heat up again). ‘I know, I know. I’m just stirring ya. Let’s see what you have, yeah?’ and with that the girl had flounced over to the display, looking over the choices.
Ena, dazed, had followed, slipping behind the counter so she could properly serve her.
‘I’ll have the, uh… is that satay sushi I see?’ At Ena’s nod the girl had laughed. ‘Oh, man, I have never seen that before! Could I have a couple of those, please?’
As Ena had made up that satay sushi recipe, she’d found herself smiling. ‘Sure.’
Far too soon the Australian girl had left the shop, and Ena had wished that she would come back soon.
God had smiled upon her apparently, because it was a few days after that when the Australian had walked back in, claiming that the satay sushi was the best thing she had ever tasted. A couple of days after that, she returned, then again, and again, and before long she was showing up every day. The girl introduced herself to Ena’s parents when they wandered over one day, and Ena latched onto the name, quite pathetically in her opinion.
She had been in the kitchen – she was always in the kitchen when the Australian girl was in the shop, pretending not to notice the girl – when she had heard her mother call out ‘Deary, how are you?’. Ena had panicked, because that’s how her mother had always greeted customers in her shop when she wanted to know them better, and Ena was terrified that somehow her parents would scare the girl off.
She shouldn’t have been so silly. The girl surely could’ve faced a pride of hungry lions with a smile.
Her parents and the girl had made small talk while she spied on them from the kitchen window, and when the girl leaned forward to shake her father’s hand, Ena had held her breath without even realizing.
‘I’m Libby,’ she had heard the girl say.
Ena had ducked out of sight before any of them could see her smiling like an idiot.
Libby. It sounded like a name that belongs to a girl who spent her childhood running barefoot through undergrowth, who played with other children on beaches, or spent summer nights on the roof of her bedroom, just starring out at the stars.
Jeeze, she’s such a hopeless romantic.
So, the Australian girl – Libby – had turned Ena’s whole life around by simply walking into the shop, and then kept coming back. Even now, as she expertly rolled up another sushi (teriyaki chicken) she was keeping an eye on the clock on the wall, trying to guess when Libby would walk through the door.
She tried to time it so that she was out on the floor, sweeping, cleaning windows, wiping down tables, whatever, before Libby showed up. The Australian always sat in the same booth – with a different type of sushi everyday – with her laptop open in front of her, and she would slam away at the keys. Every day, Ena cleaned and cleaned and cleaned, trying to work up the courage to start a conversation with her. Every day, she failed.
Then, one day, Libby started it for her.
It was a simple ‘Hey, how are you?’ when Ena was cleaning the next booth over, and she almost dropped her spray bottle. Like the fool she was, she had blushed a brilliant red, staring at the floor. Unable to get her voice to work, she just nodded and made a what about you? gesture.
Libby had taken it in stride, mercifully. After a few days of muted answers, she had seemed to realise that speaking was beyond Ena’s capabilities, and was more than happy to supply both sides of the conversation. It took a while for Ena to get used to her accent, to be able to completely understand the girl’s words, instead of just getting the gist of what she was saying. She had never really known how thick the Australian accent was.
‘You know both English and Japanese, right?’ Libby asked, and Ena shyly nodded. ‘That’s so cool! I only know the one language; every time I try to learn a new one it just muddles with my brain.’
Ena gave a small laugh and Libby laughed with her. She never seemed to mind Ena’s silence.
But Ena’s silence didn’t mean that she wasn’t engaged. She noticed everything about Libby; the way she tucked her hair behind her ear, the way she crossed her ankles when she sat, the badges and keychains on her bag that she was never without.
The pattern of freckles on her shoulders.
How every week her nails would be polished with a different colour.
The smile she got when she was telling Ena tall stories – how drop bears almost killed her cat; that time when a magpie flew through her window and crapped all over her homework.
One day, after Libby slammed shut the laptop she had been smashing out an essay on (literally – the keys were being battered), she groaned, massaging her temples. ‘But, I have managed to master about twenty different types of art styles, hurrah to me!’ the girl rolled her eyes at herself, her voice sarcastic. ‘Uni has failed to teach me how to write decent shit, though.’
Ena glanced up from her sweeping. ‘You draw?’
Libby looked around, startled. ‘She talks! It’s a miracle! Wait, no, I’m sorry,’ she hastily added when Ena blushed and went to turn back to her broom. ‘I do draw. I’m taking an art course. Animation, actually.’
‘Animation, like movies?’
‘Like movies. You wanna see some?’
Ena gestured to the seat opposite of her, and Libby smiled and nodded. Taking a seat, Ena smoothed out her apron. The girl took out a small sketchbook from her bag and slid it over to her.
She tried so hard not to snatch it from the table and rip it open, instead she gently picked it up and let it fall open to a page. On it was a handful of sketches, all the same cutesy, cartoon-y style. Rebecca Sugar was scrawled along the top of the page.
‘Rebecca Sugar?’ Ena asked, and Libby nodded.
‘Rebecca Sugar is another artist – and musician and the creator of a cartoon, too. That’s her art style I was using.’
Ena flicked through another few pages; some were similar to the Rebecca Sugar Page, but different styles – Loish, Bryke, Picolo-kun, Disney, Yuumei. Others were not labelled, and Ena guessed those were the ones not based on a certain style, but Libby’s own flair. The characters Libby drew ranged from characters that Ena recognised from some shows and movies, to unfamiliar ones, sometimes under a title, like ‘P:LL’ or ‘P:OWT’.
‘P:LL?’ she asked. ‘P:OWT?’
‘Project: Lost Light, and Project: One Way Ticket. They’re short films that my class is working on. There’s a fair few of them in there.’
‘You’re making movies?’
‘Short films. Why do you think I’m here in Dallas, in the good ol’ US of A?’
Ena could only stare at her.
‘I go to a university in Australia. One Way Ticket is based in, you guessed it, Dallas, and since I’m the concept artist, I got sent here to suss things out.’
‘Suss things out?’
‘Yeah! Like, what the fashion is over here, how people act, talk, even just the general layout of the city. How things work. Suss things out, so the film’ll be realistic.’ She leant forward and took hold of the sketchbook, flicking forward a few pages. There were pencil sketches of random civilians, hunched against the cold winds of Dallas. Drawings of landmarks in the city. Ena flicked forward another few pages, and found paintings of sunsets and skyscrapers in the rain, and then designs of a girl, the same girl over and over in different outfits and hairstyles, all in different poses.
Libby jabbed at the girl. ‘That’s the main character from One Way Ticket.’
One Way Ticket. The film. Libby was here for a film. ‘So… you’re not here to stay?’
For the first time since Ena first met her, the smile slid off of Libby’s face. ‘No. No, I’ll have to leave in another month or so. I’ll send this sketchbook back to my classmates, and I’ll head off to the next project.’
A month. Ena didn’t know how to feel about that.
Libby leant back in her seat. ‘Uh… did you want to hear about the next project I’ll be researching?’
Ena shook her head and slid out from the booth. ‘No… I mean, I do, I really do, but I’ve got to go. Sushi to make, dishes to clean, I’m sorry…’
‘No it’s fine. I’ve got to head off soon, so… see you later?’
‘Yeah. Later.’ Ena echoed, and Libby smiled sadly and slipped out of the shop.
The next day when Libby slipped into her usual place, this time with a creaming soda and a spicy chicken sushi, Ena threw down her washcloth and spray bottle, told her mother she was going on break, and stomped over to the Australian’s booth.
She had no idea what she was going to say, if she was mad or sad or disappointed, so when Libby looked up at her, she surprised herself by asking, ‘What’s you other project?’
Libby beamed, letting out a sigh of relief. ‘Gosh, I thought you were gonna deck me for a second. Since when do you actually start one of our conversations?’
Glowing a little at the ‘our conversations’, Ena shrugged. ‘I’ve decided I like you,’ she replied, as if she hadn’t decided she liked Libby from the second she set foot inside the shop. Truthfully, Ena had started one of their conversations because if they only had a month left, well…
Libby laughed, looking pleased, and shuffle over in her seat, patting the space next to her. Ena hesitated, before sliding into the seat. Their thighs rubbed together, and when Libby leant forward to grab her sketchbook, Ena could smell the perfume she wore.
‘The next project is Lost Lights,’ Libby said, and in her daze, Ena remembered the title ‘P:LL’. ‘Lost Lights is gonna be set in ancient Japan. During a festival – we’re thinking about making it the New Year’s festival, but it’s not set in stone – but the girl loses hold of one of the floating lanterns, and, well, it floats away. So, then, she goes on this massive journey across Japan to find it, and…’
Libby babbled on, getting more and more excited as she went on, using her whole body to talk, but Ena lost track of what she was actually saying when Libby slipped her leg under Ena’s, tangling their ankles together.
Her mouth dry, Ena could only nod when she thought it was appropriate, occasionally making mm-hmming noises.
When Libby sat up straight, taking her leg and sketchbook with her, Ena jolted back to alertness again. ‘The only thing is,’ the girl sighed, eyebrows drawing together, ‘is that the art department at the uni doesn’t have enough funding to hire me a translator. And while we did manage to save some money through selling those bloody cupcakes, it’s only enough to buy plane tickets and a place to stay. I won’t be able to understand what anyone’s saying to me, so my research will be pretty much useless.’
‘You need a translator?’ Ena asked, her mind whirling.
Libby folded her arms on the table and rested her chin on them. ‘Basically, yeah.’
‘I know Japanese.’
‘Well, yeah, you were born on Japa-’ Libby cut herself off, snapping her head towards Ena. ‘Wait. Are you--?’
‘I haven’t had a vacation in years. I have plenty saved up. My parents keep going on about how I should travel while I’m young.’
‘But would you really-?’
‘I would. I really, really, would.’ Ena had never seen Libby’s eyes shine so brightly.
Before she knew it, Libby was hugging her, her arms crushing Ena into her, laughing into her shoulder. ‘Thank you! Thank you so much! We were talking about cancelling the trip because it would’ve been absolutely useless, but now this’ll be great, thank you--!’
Ena laughed with her, tears brimming in her own eyes.
It was only a couple of weeks later – a few days before she and Libby had to leave – when it finally hit Ena, that she was going to Japan, that she was going to Japan with Libby, she was going to Japan with Libby to act as a translator, that this was really happening. She was in the shop kitchen cleaning dishes at the time, and she had to grip the counter for support. An almost hysterical laugh escaped her lips.
Libby was sitting on the bench beside her – she had practically been adopted by Ena’s parents when they had learned that she was the one who would finally drag Ena from her comfortable sushi life, and had long since earned Kitchen Privileges – and looked around, shocked. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Yeah,’ Ena half laughed. ‘Yeah. Just, we’re going to Japan.’
Libby grinned. ‘Japan. Us. Yeah. It’s just a few days away, huh? We’re pretty much packed and out the door!’
Ena’s smile died on her face. ‘Oh, shit.’ Packing. ‘Um. About that. I... I haven’t even started to pack.’
Libby barked a laughed, slapping her hand on Ena’s shoulder. ‘And here I was thinking I was the disorganised one! You’ve got, like, two nights to get that sorted, girl.’
‘I don’t even know what to bring.’ Ena covered her face with hands, then grimaced when she got soapy water in her hair. Libby leaned closer and popped most of the bubbles.
‘I’m used to backpacking; do you want me to help?’
Ena’s face heated up again, and Libby laughed. ‘You’re cute when you blush’ – Ena blushed even harder, and Libby laughed again – ‘and I’m taking that as a yes. You look like you need a bit of my help.’
I’ll help you pack Libby had said, but they must do things differently in Australia, because it’s later in Ena’s room, and Libby’s helping was her sitting on Ena’s bed, talking, while Ena tears through her wardrobes, throwing clothes into two suitcases.
‘Your room is so nice! I can’t believe I haven’t been here before. I mean, you came around to my hotel last week, and so did your parents, but I’ve never been here. How weird is that, huh?’
Ena can’t help but think the room seems so much smaller with the two of them in it. ‘It is a little,’ she mused, holding up a sundress and trying to figure out if it was worth packing.
‘Oooh, pack that, you look amazing in that dress.’ Libby finally jumped up off of the bed and took the dress from her, folding it carefully and placing it in a suitcase. When she stood, Ena grabbed her wrist and swung her around until they were nose to nose. And leaned forward.
Libby froze, eyes wide.
Ena jerked back, blushing. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she stuttered. ‘I thought that you- I was reading too much into things and that was too forward, I am so sorry-‘
Libby gently clasped her face in her hands, putting a stop to her words, leaned forward and kissed her.
When they broke apart, breathless, Libby winked and smoothed a lock of hair behind Ena’s ear. ‘I thought that I was gonna have to wait forever for you to make a move.’ She bent down, picked up a shirt from the floor and threw it in a suitcase. ‘Now c’mon, we gotta pack for our trip.’
Our trip. Ena smiled and bent down beside her, elbowing her in the shoulder. ‘You’re lucky I volunteered for translator.’
Libby huffed out a chuckle. ‘Hell yeah, I am.’