I wake to the sound of clinging glasses. A shiver crawls up my skin as I become aware of how cold the night air has become. Disoriented, I rub my eyes and blink twice. Maria is sitting in her window seat, a glass in her hand and a bottle of last evening's liquor on the floor next to her. Her hair is piled up messily on top of her head and a loose t-shirt hangs on her thin frame. The moonlight fills her glassy eyes, turning them from emerald into a sea of aquamarine.
The window is pushed all the way open, with no screen to block the frail looking girl from the outside. Feeling nervous, I stand up and lightly touch her shoulder, hoping she wouldn't fall off the edge.
"I won't fall, idiot," she smirks, "I'm not that drunk."
She's obviously drunk.
"Sorry," I say sheepishly, taking my hand off her shoulder. "I'll go back to sleep now."
"No, stay," she slurs. "You're already awake anyways."
At that moment, I force back a yawn.
"Sit," She commands me.
She finally turns to me, rolling her eyes. "You won't even die if you fall from this height."
"How do you know?" I look down to the shiny chrome and concrete of the lot beneath incredulously.
My eyes grow wide. "Y…you –"
"Relax," She says on the verge of a smile. "I'm joking."
I let out a breath of air and glare at her slightly, "It wasn't funny."
Maria raises an eyebrow, "Are you going to sit down or not?"
"Fine," I grumble as I sit opposite of her with caution, as far away from the edge as possible.
"Not so bad is it?" She chuckles without smiling, taking a sip from her glass. "The night is beautiful only if you're willing to look at it."
"What?" I laugh. "What does that even mean?"
"I'm drunk," she glares at me. "I'm allowed to not make sense."
"You're much friendlier when you're drunk at least," I point out. "Oh, but wait. You won't remember this conversation later and be mad at me will you?"
She takes another sip. "Of course I will."
"I never realized how easy it was to talk to a drunk person," I smile.
Maria makes an annoyed sound. "I'm not that drunk."
"Why are you talking to me then?"
We sit in silence for a moment. The slight wind is raising goose bumps on my arms and legs, but I don't move a centimeter.
Maria picks up the bottle next to her and holds it out to me, "Want some?"
I shake my head.
She shrugs. "Suit yourself."
"Why are you drinking by yourself in the middle of night anyways?" I ask, hoping she won't push me out the window.
"Why not?" She says nonchalantly.
Another moment of silence passes.
"You know drinking too much is bad for you," I say, sounding like one of those school counselors who come in with anti-drinking and smoking presentations every once in a while.
"And smoking causes cancer," she slurs sarcastically. "Please, tell me what else is new."
"Um…there's also this thing called drugs now that you shouldn't get into."
To my surprise Maria laughs, tipping her glass out the window. We both watch the liquid spill, expecting to hear a splash somewhere below, but hears nothing.
Her laughing face is strange. It feels like I've just witnessed a solar eclipse or phenomenon that happens every two centuries.
"You should laugh more often," I tell her.
Right as those words slipped from my mouth, the light in her eyes dim.
"That's too much to ask, child," she says tipping her head to look at me. "Next you'll ask me to smile more or talk more or start my own reality TV show or something."
"No, I didn't mean that-"
"Oh I know," she says, staring off into the distance. "You don't really mean anything. You're clueless."
"So I've been told," I mutter. "Oh, and don't forget naïve."
"You're wondering why I isolate myself when I'm sober, aren't you?" she suddenly asks.
"Not particularly," I say. "But now I'm curious."
"So if I lie would you care?"
"I wouldn't know if you were lying."
The ice melts away from Maria's eyes as she regards me sincerely, for the first time.
"I suppose if I tell you everything about my life now, I wouldn't remember later anyways," she smiles.
"I thought you weren't that drunk."
"Ha. Ha. Very funny."
Maria pours herself another glass of Champaign and swirls the bubbling liquid around and around, almost as if enchanted.
"There's really not much to tell," she finally says. "Or if there is, I don't even know where to start."
I watch her for a moment; her eyes are following her glass like a child's would follow a swimming goldfish.
"Well…" I take a deep breath, and think for a moment. "Are you happy?"
"You sound like a god damn therapist," she laughs before pausing to think about it for a moment. "I don't think so, are you?"
"Would it be selfish if I say I'm not?"
"No," she watches me almost sympathetically. "Just honest."
"I should be," I say. "I have everything I need."
"Now you sound like a nun for goodness sake."
I bite my lip. "Sorry."
"That's what everyone thinks, right?" Maria takes a big sip and sets her glass down with a cold clink on the ground. "She's famous, she's pretty, she's rich. What else could you possibly need, right?"
"I wouldn't know," I laugh.
"Oh, right," her glassy eyes tried refocusing. "You're homeless aren't you?"
"No, I live with my Aunt and Uncle," I say slowly.
"And are you happy, then?"
We stare at each other for a moment, neither of us wanting to budge. I want to laugh – because here we are, two strangers that could barely stand to be around each other a few hours ago, talking about the universe, and life, and happiness. It's strange but I feel like we both need it, both of us needed a stranger today and God gave us one.
She's Maria Yuusuke, the famous model whose face appears on almost every magazine of the most prestigious fashion industries, and yet she does not own a single mirror. And then there's me; the girl who would rather be homeless than go back to her million dollar home. And yet, here we are. It's ridiculous.
"Are we friends then, Maria-chii?" I joke. "We had such a deep conversation."
She snorts. "Maria Yuusuke will never have friends."
"Too troublesome," She says. "Connections are dangerous. Everyone you meet in your lifetime, you are connected to them. You will keep meeting people and weave your web until one day; it will collapse onto you and destroy you."
"Family is a connection you can't shake off, but other people…" she says with absolute resolution. "You can control that."
"I don't get it," I say in confusion, not knowing whether to take her seriously or not.
"Because having friends or falling in love," she pauses as if she's trying to find the right words. "You're giving them the power to hurt you."
"You're awfully wise for someone who's drunk," I laugh, but her words hit home.
"I'm not that drunk," she snaps.
"But friendships and falling in love…they're good for you too," I say, not knowing why I said it.
"My family is already troublesome enough," she sighs. "I don't need more of that."
I frown. "How? Yuusuke-kun?"
"Yuusuke is a coward," Maria growls. "He's a good for nothing coward."
"That's not true – "
"It is," She snaps. "He's doesn't chase after his own happiness, he runs from it. He can't choose sides; he can't defend any one person. He smiles because it's expected of him to and he's kind to everyone because that makes him feel like a good person and everyone will like him."
"That," she lets out an angry breath. "That makes him a coward."
Does it really?
"My mom has like ten different lovers because she's always lonely and my dad doesn't care because he's in love with someone who doesn't even exist," Maria's words start spilling out faster and faster and her eyes go from glass to fury.
"Someone who doesn't exist?"
"I can't explain it," she lets out a deep breath. "He's good to us, a good dad and a good husband but he's so distant sometimes, like he has this big dark mystery that nobody can ever understand."
I let her talk, because she needs to.
"People form connections to not feel lonely," She finally says, with slow and careful articulation. "But with connections, sometimes you have to bear the loneliness of other people."
"Don't – "
"Don't what?" She snaps. Her eyes are filled with frustration and ferocity. "Don't start tearing up? Because it's not becoming? It's not attractive? Don't what?"
"No," I say softly. "Don't be afraid to cry."
The fire blows out of her eyes like a birthday candle. Then she looks away.
I want to comfort her somehow, because her eyes are filled with a kind of strange and lonely pain that I can't understand, but looks so incredibly familiar. But I can't hug her because I don't know how, and I can't say anything because I don't know what. So I just sit there, and look away into the moon and we take in the silence as if that was how it always had been.
"Now that I've bestowed upon you my feelings," she cuts though the silence. "Tell me about you."
At that moment it seemed as if a thousand words had built up inside my chest but not one of them can come out of my mouth. They are like little birds that neither had the knowledge or audacity to fly. At that moment I had too much to say, so I said nothing at all.
I just shrug.
"It's only fair," she demands.
"I really don't have much to tell," I say. "And that's the saddest part."
"Aren't you lonely?"
"Aren't we all?"
She laughs at that. "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"Don't we all?"
"We're expected to."
"I hate it," Maria says bitterly, frowning at the moon above our heads. "Why can people just tell us who we're supposed to be or what we're supposed to do with our lives? What the hell do they know?"
"Why can't anyone just come up to me and say 'Maria Yuusuke, you'd be absolutely wonderful as president'?"
"Maria Yuusuke," I say to her. "You'd be absolutely wonderful as president."
A smile tugs on the corners of her mouth and she turns to look at me with a strange fascination.
"And don't I know it," she smirks.
After a moment, she turns to go.
"I'm going to go to sleep," she says, half her body engulfed in the darkness of the room. "I'm becoming sober."
"Goodnight," I say to her.
"Don't talk to me," she responds, but I can tell she's smiling.
The next morning, Maria is already gone. Her covers are as smooth and wrinkle free as if she hadn't been in it at all. The window is closed and sunlight filters through instead of moonlight, lighting up the entire room in blinding light. There is no Champaign bottle lying near the window seat, I even stand up and check.
I go into the bathroom to clean up feeling like I had just woken up from a strange hallucination.
"Maybe I'm too desperate for friends," I mumble to myself, splashing cold water on my face.
Someone knocks on the bathroom door, causing me to almost slip and kill myself.
"Akari-chann! You in there?" A cheerful voice explodes on the other side of the door.
I rub my temples. Having to face people makes me so nervous.
I cautiously open the door. Yuusuke stands in the doorway like a puppy.
"Hello, Yuusuke-kun," I say calmly.
His hair curly brown hair is even more tussled than it was yesterday, and the sunlight makes each strand glow like a halo. He's wearing just a t-shirt with a light black blazer, making him look like a younger version of his dad.
"Did you sleep well, mon petite chaton?" he asks, his eyes are almost identical to Maria's, but they are startlingly warm.
"Yeah, I think so," I tell him. "But um, I don't know where my clothes from yesterday went."
Yuusuke grins slyly, "Takami probably took them to cross dress with."
"Interesting, Yuusuke," A deep voice interrupts from the hall and before I know it, Ikuto Takami is leaning on the doorframe. "I didn't even know I had such a hobby," his eyes are laughing but there is no smile on his mouth.
I don't understand it – but he absolutely terrifies me.
I turn to go hide in the bathroom again but Yuusuke catches me.
"I thought since you were the one who was concerned about her, you would want to see how she was doing," Yuusuke said.
"Suwa-san was the one concerned about her," Ikuto says. "I was just doing him a favor."
"Suwa-san?" I ask. "Why was he concerned about me?"
Ikuto shrugged, "He just called me and said he saw you run off and that you might need help."
"And nobody questions Suwa-sama because he's got this six sense or something," Yuusuke adds.
Guilt and embarrassment seep into me and I feel my face turn an unhealthy shade of red.
"I'm so sorry I caused so much trouble."
"No, no, no," Yuusuke puts a hand on my shoulder. "It's no trouble, I really liked having you here-"
"If you're really sorry, hurry up, get dressed and go to work," Ikuto says bluntly.
Now that just made me feel less guilty.
"Come on now, Takami," Yuusuke tousles my hair. "Be nice to her. Look how cute she is."
"I still don't have any clothes," I announce out loud awkwardly.
"I already found you something!" Yuusuke grins, pointing to something on the bed. "If you don't like it we can go look for something else."
"Don't use her as your dress up doll, you'll never get to work," Ikuto warns, turning to leave. "I'll see you at studio eleven, Yuusuke."
"I'll be there," Yuusuke salutes.
After Ikuto is out of sight, Yuusuke picks up a white button up shirt and a black skirt. "What do you think? I was going for the professional look."
"They look great," I say, overwhelmed. "But those aren't my clothes."
Yuusuke frowns. "Why not?"
"Because they belong to you, not me," I enunciate. "I can't just stay at your house and take your clothes."
"Because it's not right," I raise an eyebrow, feeling like I'm talking to a five year old. "It's just not how it works."
"Well if you're not going to wear them then nobody else ever will," Yuusuke shrugs. "No model can fit into this."
"Then why do you have it?" I laugh.
"They were Maria-chii's back when she was still small and cute," Yuusuke chuckles.
"Wouldn't she mind then?"
"She was the one who randomly came up to me this morning and told me she had a box of old clothes in the closet."
"I think she's warming up to you," Yuusuke laughs, patting me on the back. "Tell me your secret sometime."
"Alright thanks," I take the clothing from his hands and head towards the bathroom.
The cold night air has been replaced with warm sunlight. Everything is so blindingly bright, and so blindingly real. For the first time in a long time, I feel like the universe owes me to be just a little more reckless.
"I guess she really wasn't that drunk then," I murmur to myself.
"What was that?" Yuusuke asks.
"Nothing," I smile back at him. "Nothing at all."