The next Friday evening saw Yasuko visiting the mansion for the first time. Entering with Meg, she sat on one of the usual sofas in the parlour – Lifa was being even more posh than usual and refused to countenance the term living room – and guzzled a cup of tea.
Emilia stared. “Yacchan makes absolutely no pretence of anything, does she?”
“How so?” Meg asked.
“I remember you made an effort to be, um… ladylike with your tea?” Emilia muttered, feeling an immense amount of shame at the realisation that she’d probably just insulted her newest friend.
Meg’s face morphed into one of understanding. “Oh… yeah, Yacchan doesn’t worry about things like that.”
“Indeed I do not. Life’s too short to care about silly things,” Yasuko said, raising her cup with a flourish, then downing the rest of the remaining liquid. She placed the cup on its saucer on the table, then glanced about. “Nice place, Emicchi.”
Emilia’s cheeks glowed a little; she still wasn’t quite used to the familiar name Yasuko occasionally used for her. “Thanks. Blue’s terrible at a lot of things, but this house isn’t one of them.”
“So what’s up, Yacchan?” Meg asked.
Pausing halfway through devouring a piece of strawberry cake, Yasuko did her best to swallow so she could reply without spraying crumbs. “Remember I said I was heading to Tokyo for a reunion with some old school friends?”
“Yep. You bought that heavenly new fragrance for it, right? I could sniff you all day wearing that!” Meg said, her eyes steaming up. She came back to reality and realised what she’d just said, her cheeks exploding into a supernova of embarrassment.
“You’re welcome to sniff me whenever you like,” Yasuko said, unabashed. “So… I wondered if you two fancied coming along?”
Meg looked concerned. “You sure it’s okay for us to just head to Tokyo for a weekend? What if there’s an elemental?”
“Remember I said before we have the mirror room upstairs?” Emilia said.
“The thing that lets you travel instantly… oh. Right.”
“Yep. Lifa will let us know if there’s a problem, we can travel and deal with it easily enough. Though we’d have to find a mirror first.”
“Bathrooms normally have mirrors,” Yasuko said in a suggestive tone.
Ignoring her friend’s hints as to her additional uses for bathrooms, Meg coughed. “Anyway, I’d love to come along, but aren’t you visiting old friends? Wouldn’t we be extra baggage?”
“No worries, the more the merrier! Though I might have to leave you at the bar initially. Haven’t seen any of these girls in a long time. Like… ‘since we left school’ a long time.”
“Now I feel even more awkward at the idea,” Meg mumbled.
“Please, Meg, I want you along,” Yasuko said, placing her hands together, almost beseechingly.
“Um, I’d like to go as well,” Emilia chimed in. “Why are you even hesitating, Meg?”
“Would you feel better about intruding if I mentioned I want you along for moral support, Meg?” Yasuko asked.
Meg’s eyebrows went up. “Moral support? Aren’t they your friends?”
“Sure… when we were at school. No idea about now.”
“Oh. Okay, I’ll be happy to come along, then!”
“That’s my girl,” Yasuko said, visibly relaxing.
It was unnerving seeing such a confident girl look so uncomfortable. Especially so as Meg had rarely witnessed her best friend in this state. The one major time she remembered vividly was when Yasuko’s grandmother had tripped and broken her hip; she was fine now, mostly, but the event had shaken Yasuko a great deal.
Standing, Yasuko made for the door. “Righto, we’ll be leaving around four o’clock, be ready! Dress nice and bring an overnight bag, I’ll be booking a hotel for the night.”
“Oooh, a sleepover!?” Meg exclaimed.
“Most of the girls I’m meeting live in the area. We don’t. If I’m driving, I’m not drinking. And I want to be drinking.”
The other two okayed her and Yasuko left to prepare herself, both mentally and physically…
Saturday afternoon rolled around, and Meg arrived at the hotel with Emilia, eager to get on the road. Heading down to the hotel’s underground carpark, they ended up beside a sporty BMW 220i convertible. They dumped their overnight bags in the boot and got comfy in the vehicle, Meg up front and Emilia squeezed into the back seat.
“It’s a shame you don’t go places that often, I love your car!” Meg said.
Yasuko started the car. “That an invitation?”
“I’m always up for trips!”
“Unless you feel awkward about it for some reason,” Yasuko said, giggling at her friend looking awkward right now.
Exiting the carpark, their roughly hour and a half journey north, across Tokyo Bay and into the city itself went largely without issue. Emilia occasionally poked her friends with questions like why they had to pay to use the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line toll road, or why cars could go at stupid speeds but were artificially limited by seemingly random roadside signs, but otherwise the journey went smoothly.
Yasuko drove them to a hotel in Shinjuku, they checked in, then immediately checked out with the intention of wandering the streets. Emilia was instantly on the defensive, feeling well outside her usual comfort zones surrounded by so many people and so much general bustle.
Saturday night Shinjuku was literally the opposite of keeping a low profile from Emilia’s point of view. On the other hand, this level of bustling activity allowed her to blend in reasonably easily despite her exotic looks, so she tried to relax and simply enjoy the atmosphere.
As Yasuko had to be at a specific place in the near future, they wandered in that general direction; a place called Zatta, a well known and well liked bar and restaurant in Shinjuku’s Area 6.
Upon arriving, they entered the bar area, a large space featuring a square bar lit with golden yellow neon strips around a metal structure attached to the ceiling and the bar itself. Up a step to a raised area, low tables, each with four cream armchairs in a soft leather surrounding them.
Two of the tables had seven young women occupying the chairs, chatting and drinking. Yasuko grabbed herself a drink, left her two friends from Kamogawa at the bar, and wandered up to the raised area.
“Wish we luck,” she said as she left.
“Good luck!” Meg called after her, quiet enough to not be overheard by the girls around the tables.
Yasuko sat in the one vacant chair with a clear view to the bar. A round of greetings was performed, at which point she did her best to recall the good times she’d had with these girls.
At the bar, the other two had ordered a glass of wine each – Meg thinking that beer didn’t seem quite appropriate for a high class bar like this – and seated themselves on two of the stools, ensuring they had a clear view to their third.
The first hour or so went pretty quickly, all things considered. Yasuko chatted to her old school buddies, though never with quite the same vigour as back in the day, so Meg focused on her own conversation.
She sipped at her third glass of wine that evening and broached a topic originally brought up by Emilia in the vehicle earlier. “Do you not have cars in your world?”
Suspiciously sniffing her own glass of bubbly – still unsure whether she liked it – Emilia glanced over. “Eh? Oh… no, not in the way you do. We use magic to grow stuff like that.”
“Yeah, like a living creature? Doesn’t take as long, though.”
Meg’s expression indicated a level of minor worry. “You grow cars?”
“More or less,” Emilia said, figuring they’d be here all night if she went into too much detail.
They noticed Yasuko glancing across and giving them an awkward smile.
Meg’s expression dropped even further. “I’ve never seen Yacchan this uncomfortable before. You can see it in her body language, she wants to be somewhere else now.”
“She doesn’t look like she’s enjoying herself, even I can see that,” Emilia said.
“She seemed fine when she sat down, too.”
“People change,” Emilia said with a shrug. “No guarantee those you left years ago will still be welcoming now.”
“Sounds like you’ve had a similar experience?”
Meg conceded the point. “I guess…”
“Hey, Meg? Yacchan…” Emilia said, pointing.
Yasuko had stood, giving a shallow bow and waving. She wandered across to the bar. Grasping the hands of both her friends, she tugged them out onto the night-time streets, barely giving them time to finish their drinks. “Come on, let’s blow this joint. I know somewhere perfect for us!”
“Uh-oh…” Meg muttered, figuring – quite correctly – that her best friend was probably about to take them to a lesbian bar to unwind a bit. ‘I’ll have to protect Emilia,’ she thought…
“So that didn’t go well?” Emilia said as they walked their way across to Area 2.
“Started okay, I suppose. We’ve all moved on and changed, but I’m the only one who’s…” Yasuko said, trailing off.
“Let’s just say they weren’t as comfortable with my sexuality as the two lovely girls I’m now walking with, okay?” Yasuko said. While she did a good job not showing it, her friends could see as plain as day that she was upset.
On her left, Meg took one hand. On her right, Emilia took the other. Yasuko grinned, the sick feeling in her stomach rapidly fading. Old friends who couldn’t accept her new self, or new friends who stood by her come what may? It wasn’t even a competition; Yasuko knew where she belonged now.
Tugging them along to a special bar she was fond of, they finally arrived at the place known as Gold Finger.
“I should probably just make sure that you’re okay going in here?” Yasuko asked.
“We’re not leaving you alone, Yacchan!” Meg said firmly.
“Aww, thanks, both of you. Incidentally, Saturday nights are ladies only. Ladies of the type I like,” Yasuko said, waggling her hips suggestively.
Inside, they were barraged by the sound of karaoke being sung by a girl who was clearly quite inebriated but having a grand old time despite this. Since arriving in Japan, Meg had been consistently impressed by how well Japanese people could sing even while drunk.
Dark wooden furniture contrasted with vivid reds and yellows, creating a comfortable yet sexy atmosphere Yasuko felt right at home in. Grabbing the three of them a drink each, she sat with them on a bench seat near the entrance.
“Now this is more like it,” she said, nodding.
Emilia sniffed at the bottle she been handed, her face lighting up at the fruity bouquet. “This smells gorgeous!” She guzzled half the bottle in one go. “Tastes it, too!”
After being lukewarm on beer – improved by the addition of lemonade at least – and wine, it seemed Emilia had found something she actually liked a great deal.
“I thought you’d probably enjoy alcopops more than beer,” Yasuko said, raising her own beer bottle in toast.
Meg leaned over to rest her head on her best friend’s shoulder, a regular occurrence in their relationship for reasons neither really understood. “Wanna talk?”
“What’s there to say? Bunch of old school friends I’ve not seen in years who weren’t comfortable with the idea I might find them attractive or want to hit on them. Honestly, I expected something like this might happen.”
“I understand why you asked us along now,” Meg murmured.
“As I said, moral support. Or maybe immoral support, I’m feeling pretty frisky right now, after all,” Yasuko said with an incredibly dirty chuckle.
“Don’t worry about us, then, go and flirt!” Meg added, making a shooing motion with a hand.
This sounded like an excellent idea, so Yasuko grabbed her drink and wandered off to the bar to accost some attractive ladies. Immediately, she began chatting to a gorgeous blonde, most likely a visitor from outside Japan, so Meg focused on calming her other friend down.
She turned to the increasingly terrified Emilia, sitting bolt upright with her drink gripped in both hands as she was. “Worried?”
Emilia nodded. “A bit. I’ve not really been to bars and things before, tonight’s my first time, haha…”
Yasuko returned for a moment and flopped down into the seat with a sigh. “Total bust.”
“Not interested? She seemed to be, going by body language… though I admit I have no idea about… that sort of thing,” Meg said, blushing.
“Oh, she was interested. She just has a girlfriend.”
“And you didn’t suggest a threesome? You’re slipping, Yacchan.”
“Never assume, my dearest Meg. But no, on this occasion I didn’t. Need to be in a fit state to drive you two home tomorrow, remember.”
Emilia remained silent, her cheeks signalling to the world at large her massive embarrassment levels. “You girls…”
As Yasuko went to head off on the hunt again, another girl took a seat opposite, tucking her long, brunette hair behind her shoulders. “Hey! So… haven’t seen you girls around here before.”
Meg stiffened. Being okay around Yasuko was one thing. Being approached by a random girl in a lesbian bar was quite another. “H-Hi! Yeah, we’re here from Kamogawa.”
The girl’s face broke into a sunny smile. “Oh! Anything to do with Starlight City?”
Yasuko inserted herself into the conversation at this point, thinking to take some of the heat off her innocent friends. “Actually yes, my parents are pretty involved with the Project. You interested?”
“More than anything! I’m studying to be a geologist at uni right now. Kind of a boring job to some people, but I love it, and I’m really hoping to move to Starlight one day and be a part of that.”
“You don’t say? I might be able to help in that case. How about we grab a few drinks and chat?” Yasuko suggested, standing and holding out a hand.
Grasping it, the brunette beamed at the other two and wished them a pleasant evening as they headed off to one of the booth seats over the other side of the bar, making a stop for drinks on the way. It took a mere ten minutes for the first kiss to happen.
Meg giggled. “I’ve seen Yasuko in flirty mode quite a few times, it never gets old.”
Emilia had spent the last ten minutes staring intently at Yasuko’s movements, the way she maintained both eye contact and a degree of physical touching. And the way she kissed, closing her eyes, a hand gently stroking her partner’s cheek…
And the way she kissed down the neck, the way she had her partner drink some of her own beer, kissing afterwards and sharing the liquid in a way Emilia couldn’t even have conceived of if she hadn’t witnessed it.
Meg poked her. “First time seeing two girls kiss?”
“Eh!? Ah… um, yeah. Seeing basically anyone kiss, actually.”
“How do you feel? Excited? Embarrassed? Interested?”
“Not sure, to be honest.”
Draining her current bottle, Meg leaned over to brush shoulders. “I was exactly the same the first time, don’t worry.”
Another half-hour slipped past, at which point Yasuko zipped across with her partner for the evening. “Ready?”
They were, so upon exiting they took an unsteady stroll back to the hotel Yasuko had booked for the night. Two double rooms, naturally. Up on the tenth floor, she stepped into the second room with Meg and Emilia for a moment.
She embraced Meg, tightly and intimately. “You’re the best friend in the world, Meg, I want you to know that.” With this, she pecked her friend’s cheek and rushed back out to the hall and her waiting bed mate for the night.
While Yasuko busied herself in the next room with activities of an enjoyably sweaty nature, Emilia broached a subject of some delicacy.
“Um, can I ask something really personal?”
Meg was presently brushing her hair after a pleasant shower, albeit one in a minor alcoholic haze. The brush was momentarily stilled. “Sure.”
Emilia shuffled closer on the double bed. “Are you and Yacchan… you know… more than…?”
“Eh!? What gave you that idea?” Meg said, aghast.
“That was a pretty intense hug before she left…”
“That’s normal for her, at least when she’s had a few drinks,” Meg said, laughing. “She jokes about wanting to get me into bed, and honestly I think she really wouldn’t mind. But nope, we’re not like that beyond being best friends.”
“Why, are you jealous?” Meg asked with a raised eyebrow and a smirk on her lips. The stilled brush started moving again.
“Don’t be silly! I was just curious, that’s all.”
“Really!” Emilia shifted a little, avoiding eye contact. “Did you feel uncomfortable knowing Yacchan finds you attractive?”
“Mm, no, I don’t think I did. Felt flattered, mostly! You’re not uncomfortable around her, are you? I won’t say anything to her if you are, don’t worry!”
“Nope. Well… maybe a bit, but that’s more because she’s really overpowering,” Emilia said, blushing.
“I did warn you.”
Emilia giggled at this. “I probably underestimated her a bit. Honestly, she’s fun to be around. Back home, people are pretty private with relationships anyway, and especially kelnoc ones. It’s nice being around people who are more open about it.”
Meg jumped forward to hug her newest friend. “I’m available any time you want to talk about anything. Anything at all!”
Struggling a little as usual, Emilia soon gave in and accepted the embrace. “I appreciate it, Meg, thanks.”
With this, they changed into pyjamas and slid under the sheets, a little conscious of the fact they were in a big double bed together. Yasuko had probably intended to be in the middle in the event she couldn’t pull…
Next morning, Yasuko drove them home to Kamogawa, considerably happier than she had been coming the other way. Regardless of the minor hiccup with her old school friends, she had reaffirmed something incredibly important to her; that she truly had the best friends in the world right here and now. And an enjoyable one-nighter with a beautiful girl – whose number was now stored in Yasuko’s phone – was the icing on the cake.
Onwards, they drove, to the place they called home. For home is, after all, where the heart is, and Meg had enough heart for all three of them and more.