It’s been awhile, too long and yet not nearly long enough. Ritsu stands at the bar and watches the band pack up. Around her hums the soft buzz of the small audience, exchanging their tickets for cheap beer and talking animatedly with their friends. Perhaps a couple of them are falling in love, or trying to. It doesn’t really matter.

Ritsu flips open her cellphone, faded orange ke hanging off the end, and scrolls through all the numbers she should delete, but hasn’t. She highlights one, and lingers, like she always does. Then, she presses send, like she never does.

“Hello?” says a tired voice at the other end, and Ritsu’s chest feels tight. She leans against the bar and takes a breath. “Hello?” the voice says again.

“Mio?” Ritsu asks, though she doesn’t need to.

“Yes. Who is this?”

Ritsu takes a drink. “Don’t hang up,” she says, “the reception is the worst down here.”

There is silence on the other end of the line, but then Ritsu can hear a rustle, and some faint breathing, and she knows Mio is still there.

“I’m at a live show,” Ritsu says, “The opening band was really terrible, but the rest were great. I bought one of their albums. I’d tell you the name, but I can’t pronounce it at all. They wrote it totally in English! Why is that so popular now? We’re in Japan, after all.”

“Why are you calling me?” Mio asks, finally. “It’s almost five in the morning here.”

Ritsu laughs. “I can never keep that straight.”

There is a soft crackle that Ritsu can only suppose is a sigh, but Mio doesn’t say anything.

Ritsu looks around the bar. “Hey Mio, do you go out drinking, over there in America?”

“Sometimes,” Mio replies, after a pause.

Ritsu examines her empty glass, then sets it down. “Don’t fall for any of the losers that hit on you in bars, Mio. You’re way too beautiful for anyone trying to pick you up in a bar. You’re really, really, way too beautiful, so don’t let them trick you into thinking any different.”

Ritsu waits, but there is dead silence, and maybe Mio isn’t there, but she keeps talking.

“In fact, don’t let anyone trick you into anything. Don’t let anyone make you do something you don’t want to. You never fight back, it’s so easy to just…” but Ritsu can’t finish. She takes a few deep breaths.

“Why are you telling me this?” Mio asks.

“Because I want you to be happy,” Ritsu tells her, and it’s true, it’s always been the truth.

There is another silence, long and deep. Around her, the buzz is dying down as people climb the stairs into the poorly-lit street, to stumble home or elsewhere. It seems like hours before Mio replies, although of course it’s not.

“How can I be happy?” she says, and Ristu knows from the waver in her voice that Mio is crying.

Ritsu doesn’t have an answer. She listens to Mio’s soft sobs for a moment before closing her cellphone, and leaving the bar.

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