Chapter 1:

"After You've Gone"


I sit below an old oak tree and watch ships bob along where water meets sky.

We’re about two weeks away until the cherry blossoms arrive - those subtle days at the end of March when it’s not quite cold enough anymore to consider it winter, but not quite warm enough to consider it spring, either. Winter’s on its way out, you haven’t seen snow in a while, but there’s still a shrillness to the wind, a gray tint to the word, grass that’s still a bit yellow and trees still a bit barren. But there’s still something pleasant about it - because you know spring’s about to be here and you know the cherry blossoms are about to bloom, like the entire world exists behind a dam that’s about to burst. A world of anticipation.

I guess it makes sense to have the school year end in March, or just about. April is the time for something fresh. March is the time to say goodbyes.

Sanada-senpai treats me to lunch today. Afterwards, we head to one of the island's many parks. It’s too cold for a picnic, but warm enough to take a seat below one of the many imported oak trees. The younger trees were grown here, in the city’s botanical gardens, but this is an older tree, probably grown in Japan itself, then uprooted and brought to the floating city of dreams known as SHIKISHIMA.

I was born in Shikishima. The city’s so big that you don’t feel the island get rocked by the waves or nothing like that. I feel the grass beneath me, see the way the sea breeze makes the trees sway, hear the birds chirping and ducks calling as they paddle down a little stream running alongside a hill. This might be anywhere on Earth, but it’s not, because if you dig a little into the dirt, you’d hit the massive concrete blocks that form the foundations of Shikishima. Below that is nothing but water and darkness.

I’ve never left the island. I wonder if it feels any different to walk on terra firma that goes all the way down and then back out again. Maybe that’s why I feel a little adrift at times, like I have no solid footing.

That’s also why I appreciate Sanada so much. She’s taller than me, more graceful with her movements. She has long brown hair to my black bob, confidence to my anxiety. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t born here.

“It’s been fun, Shikishima High School,” Sanada says, twirling a strand of hair around a finger. “I can’t believe it’s already been three years. I guess graduation sneaks up on you.”

She speaks in a tone of bittersweet finality. In a few days, she’ll be going back to Tokyo, where she grew up. She was one of the lucky mainlanders who got to join the three-year exchange program with Shikishima.

“Don’t forget us when you’re home, alright?” I’m trying to lighten the mood with a meh joke, but her departure tomorrow weighs heavily on both of us.

I sigh. We sit atop a hill, overlooking a flower garden and open fields filled with children playing games down below. Tall buildings ring the park, but between them, you can see the endless blue infinity of the Pacific Ocean.

“Sorry,” I say when she doesn’t laugh. “It’s not easy, seeing my club president leave me.”

“Former club president,” Sanada corrects with a small smile. “It’s an open position now, and the club only has one kouhai who’ll still be here this April.”

“Ahaha…” I rub the back of my neck. I’m the one kouhai. Logically, I’d be the next president, since I’m the only one left. But I just gave you that big spiel about March being for goodbyes and all that, right? The Historical Research Club is one of them.

I, Saito Fumi, have no intentions of becoming a club president. In normal circumstances, that’s a whole lot of paperwork and administrative crap I don’t really feel like doing. You know how many things a club president has to stamp? You think I want to deal with the Student Council? No, I want to go home and watch television. Do enough to get by. Have a decent high school life, but nothing too extraordinary. I live in a city floating upon the waves, that’s enough extraordinary for a lifetime!

But these are not normal circumstances. I’m the only member left in the Historical Research Club - all of my senpais are graduating. So, not only do I have to do the usual paperwork, I have to do the unusual recruiting, the unusual sales pitch. I hate how everyone has to market themselves nowadays. I don’t plan on doing jigs and making speeches and selling myself to the lowest common denominator just to save a club.

And the pressure, too! Everybody knows the History Club has it in for the Historical Research Club’s guts. They’ll sabotage me at every turn to ensure the HRC doesn’t hit the four-member minimum requirement to be an active club. I’ll be the last president of the HRC, the only girl stupid enough among its twenty-three years of existence to let the club die.

I don’t want to be a failure. A great life carries the risk of great failure - better to live a minimal life with minimal risks. And I especially don’t want to be a failure in the eyes of one of the few people I can call my friend.

“You know, I’m proud of you,” Sanada says, pulling me back to reality. She plucks a nearby flower and blows its dainty petals into the wind. “I remember meeting you at the club fair. You looked really nervous when you approached my booth, like a single breath would knock you over. When I spoke to you, you almost turn and ran, but you found something within yourself and stood your ground. You took that first step into the wider world.”

I’m glad she’s watching the petals flow as she speaks so she doesn’t see me blush. It’s not like I, you know, like Sanada or anything. I already have my eyes set on someone. But maybe I stood my ground that day because she spoke so kindly to me. It was just a simple conversation, but you could feel the warmth emanating from her. I’m not even that big of a fan of history, really, but I felt like her club was somewhere I could belong.

“You were so nervous speaking to the other club members at the start,” Sanada remembers with a hint of nostalgia, blowing more petals into the wind. “Sometimes, my heart skipped a beat seeing you talk.”

Somewhere I could belong? Ah, I see. The HRC feels like home. But now that everyone’s leaving, that cozy feeling is slowly trickling away. That’s why I don’t want to stay - it doesn’t feel like home anymore.

But members have been coming and going for twenty-three years now, like a never-ending chain. I was welcomed home. Now, maybe it’s my turn to welcome someone else home-


Wait a minute.

What’d she say?

“Remember the Bon Festival?” Sanada says into the distance with a fond smile. “I dressed you up that day like a little doll…”

No, before that.

Her heart skipped a beat.

And wait…the flowers she’s blowing petals from…are those lilies?

And why did Sanada call me out here alone? Why aren’t we spending the whole day with the other club members?

Sanada stops her trip down memory lane short and falls silent. She twiddles her thumbs. “There’s been something I’ve wanted to say to you for a while now, Fuumi.”

Oh my lord.

She’s going to confess to me!

This is…this is forbidden love!

Sanada lets out a long sigh. “I’m so sorry, but I dropped your phone into the toilet at the Christmas party!”

Forbidden love! Forbidden love! Forbidden love! I’m so taken aback that nothing she’s saying now is registering with me.

“You let me borrow your phone because mine died,” she says with a sniffle. “After I made my call, I had to use the restroom, so I took your phone in with me. And I snooped, Fuumi, I snooped!”

Sanada keeps her gaze averted from me, the situation clearly overwhelming her. I don't blame it her - it's almost overwhelming me! I mean…Sanada’s nice and all, but this is a bit too sudden…

“I read your poetry, Fuumi. I read your slash fanfiction!”

Do you think she wants to hold hands?

“I was a little aroused but mostly shocked by the scenes you wrote! So shocked…so shocked, that I wiped with the wrong hand…”

Do you think she wants to…k-kiss?

“I dropped your phone into the toilet after that. It…then made further contact with what I...deposited in there. I had to dig it out with my bare hands…”

What if she wants to go farther? What if…what if she wants me to, you know…do that to her?

My brain goes numb, then alarm bells go off.

Why didn’t I consider this before meeting up today! I should’ve practiced! I don’t want to embarrass myself in my last meeting with her. Stupid, stupid Fumi.

“I had beans the night before…”

She’s still looking away, so I surreptitiously stick my tongue out and do the air guitar equivalent of licking coochie. I inadvertently make some slurping noises, but she’s too engrossed in her tale of love and loss to notice my practice attempts.

“With chili…”

Wait…what am I doing? This doesn’t make any sense. I’m going about this situation all wrong.

“To be perfectly honest, I was too grossed out to really clean your phone properly. I kind of just smeared the stuff off and ran it under the air dryer…”

I cup my hand to better model her nether regions and recommence the licking.

“I’m sorry, Fumi, I really am. I’m just the worst, aren’t I? I’m a terrible president and person.”

The last sentence was filled with such sorrow that I’m pulled back to reality once more. I quietly wipe the saliva off with my skirt, but I’m more focused on the fact that she’s crying real hard now.

I want to run away. I didn’t sign up for all of these feelings.

But something gets me to stand my ground. Maybe, at the end of the day, it's because of a body part that I rarely use - my spine.

“Terrible?” I question. “You welcomed me to the club, you’ve let me cry on your shoulder a few…dozen…times, and you’re the reason why I’m still in the HRC. You’ve supported me for a year now.”

Sanada wipes her eyes. “Thanks, Fuumi. It's sad that I have to go, I really like the people here. Maybe right now, I could use some of your support, too.”

She goes in for a hug. Somehow, I had never considered that maybe she just needed somebody to lean on for a moment.

“Tell me truthfully,” Sanada whispers, her hair feeling soft on my shoulder. “Do you want to leave the HRC? I should’ve recruited better. I’ve put you in a difficult position. If you leave now, I’ll be the final HRC president. The ship will go down with me. I’ll gladly do this if it spares you any anguish.”

Wow, she smells a lot better than me.

But more importantly-

“Remember snacks and tea-time?” I ask her softly. “Remember our wacky adventure in the undercity when we got on the wrong bus? Remember when we ate at a Russian sushi place and the cook was offering Russian lessons and I kind of wanted to do it but was too scared so you and the girls pushed me up to him and I ended up having a khorosheye vremya? The HRC has helped me so much. And now, I want to return those feelings. I want to be someone else’s Sanada.”

She wipes her eyes again. “I’ll miss you, Fuumi-kaicho.”

I hold her close. “I’ll miss you, Sanada-senpai.”

And that’s how it goes.






Steward McOy