Sorry it’s been awhile since the last chapter, I hope this one is worth the wait. As always feedback is greatly appreciated. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: I’ve been informed that this chapter shares some themes with Dewelar’s Developments. I haven’t read Developments yet (I know, i’m sorry), so i’m not sure how much overlap there is, but I didn’t intend to infringe on anybody else’s work.
Meet the Nakais
The bright morning sun rests comfortably on my back, while a light breeze - channeled down the wide river that runs through the heart of my city, like an exposed artery - ruffles my hair.
I stop halfway across the wrought iron bridge, laden with my heavy luggage. I’m pleased to see the hulking black structure again. It was always a welcome sight, each time I crossed it on the way home from middle school.
It’s also a great place to watch the sunrise after a long run.
Leaning my bag against the metal handrail I turn to Hisao, who wipes his sweaty brow with the back of his hand.
“Are you okay?” I frown.
“Yeah, no need to worry.” My boyfriend replies, not altogether convincingly.
Perhaps I should have arranged for a taxi?
Hisao and I have spent the last week at my parents’ small apartment, enjoying our first summer vacation together. And hopefully not the last. I lean against the beam that acts as both handrail and support for the bridge relishing the sunbaked warmth of the aged metal. Things change slowly if at all here, a city set in its ways nestled in a world ready to rush ahead.
“Something on your mind?” Hisao asks curiously, bending over the railing beside me and staring straight down into the murky green water below. Apparently you can fish in these waters, though quite frankly whatever lives down below should stay there.
“Just wondering how mum and dad are getting on.”
Thankfully I returned to our old apartment to find it as timeless as the rest of the city, the same faded wallpaper from my childhood still flaking from the walls, the furniture bearing every kind of stain, from my messy eating as a child to booze spilt in my mother's drunken haze. An abstract tapestry of our lives.
In fact the only new additions to the house came in the form of sharply angled medical equipment, blindingly white in the smoke stained room.
Dad seemed almost embarrassed by them when I formally introduced Hisao. Despite assurances that as students of a school for the disabled we were well used to seeing medical gizmos, our words fell on deaf ears and by the next morning every piece of apparatus was safely stowed out of sight.
“It’s just a routine check up right?” He asks, dragging himself away from the lazy water far below and turning to me.
“Yeah, and physical therapy,” I say distractedly, only half watching the small birds that flutter between the buildings.
I know everything will be fine.
But I can’t help but worry, if Hisao’s parents had not been expecting us I would have stayed on an extra day, just to be sure he was safe at home before I left. Unfortunately that desire is neither rational nor likely to go down well with my potential in-laws.
“Are you ready to move again, it’s not much further.” I lie, turning my attention to Hisao.
With my mum and dad using Miss Kita’s car - not to mention her chauffeuring skills - I opted to walk the not inconsiderable distance to the train station. Without even a thought to how this may affect my boyfriend, or more importantly his fragile heart. I should ring for a taxi, hell, even a cramped bus might have been better.
“Miki, I’m fine, honestly.” He rolls his eyes, a light smile on his face. “I will tell you if I have problems, promise.”
“Hmmm,” I mumble, feeling my cheeks redden. Have I been that obvious?
“I’m sorry,” I say, placing a soft kiss on his hot cheek by way of an apology. “Just worried.”
“Don’t be,” he frowns, rubbing his cheek.
Easier said than done.
“It’s nice here,” he says softly, picking up his bag. Oh dear, apparently my distraction is trying to distract me - is he allowed to do that?
“It’s not so bad,” I reply, suddenly feeling a fresh wave of nervous energy course through me. Hisao has said next to nothing about his parents, or even his home. Or at least anything of interest after he started middle school and they started a campaign of corporate ladder climbing at the expense of their son.
I’m probably being unfair in that assessment of them, or at least taking an unfairly critical view of things. No matter how much you might want people to be, no one is perfect and life is rarely simple. Still, I can’t imagine choosing money over my child. Perhaps because I’ve never had to.
Cresting a hill I had almost forgotten existed I see a concrete blot on the landscape, stained by both sun and rain the buildings stand awkwardly amongst the suborn architecture. My old middle school.
The sight chases the thought of Hisao’s parents from my mind, as I stare open mouthed.
“What's up?” Hisao asks, following my gaze, his forehead creasing slightly.
“Oh,” I say, “That’s my old middle school.”
“Ah,” he observes me for a few moments, before speaking with a puzzled expression. “Good memories or…?”
I’m not sure I know.
My memories of middle school are mixed. It was a time of great upheaval, dad had just gone to prison - not that I knew that at the time - and the warm glow of my beachside childhood was eroded away as everything from my body to the people I loved changed. In retrospect I think the experience made me, if not a better person, then certainly a tougher one.
“A bit of both,” I reply, knowing full well what a useless answer that is. “I liked it much more than my first year of high school.”
He laughs softly, “That’s funny, I enjoyed my time at high school more than middle school - I preferred the more mature atmosphere.”
“And then you met Ryouta,” I grin as we pull alongside the school fence, separating the empty playground from the path. With a smile I notice the wooden planters underneath the classroom windows are still overflowing with vibrant life. I was a member of the gardening club and helped to look after the colourful displays around the school. That is until running became such an important part of my life. Still, I’ll have to make sure my seaside cottage has a garden.
“You laugh now,” Hisao says in mock seriousness. “But when he becomes a famous name in Hollywood…”
I snort with laughter, glancing over my shoulder for one last look at the school - funny, it always seemed bigger in my memories.
Then I focus on the train station, squatting between three towering and very ugly buildings.
“Well, if he spoke Japanese then I would have at least one person in those stupid movies I understand.”
Our laughter carries us down the hill, the plastic wheels on our suitcases protesting audibly as the path becomes gradually more uneven. Hmmm, the station isn’t nearly as far I thought it was.
No one tells you that when you grow up. You don’t just get bigger, your world gets smaller.
— — —
Leaning my head against the cold and grimy train window I watch home vanish into the midday haze. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. Or something to that effect.
I think it must be true, I miss our small apartment and the company of my family already. Once, I would have done almost anything to escape that place.
“You’ll see them again soon,” Hisao says, correctly interpreting my thoughts.
I nod slowly, turning my face away from the endless sky, interrupted only by a few wisps of cloud, which blaze brightly in the midmorning sun. Hisao smiles at me, the light catching in his dimple and glittering in his eyes.
“So, anything I need to know before we get to your parents?” I ask, casually rising from my seat to drop down beside him and leaning my head against his arm. On the seats adjacent to ours a old business suited man lowers his paper just long enough to glower at me, before returning distractedly to his reading. With effort I restrain from saying something rude.
Hisao starts to say something, but I cut him off resting my fingertips on his hot cheek and turning his face towards me, before finding his lips with my own. With eyes closed I can hear the rustle of newspaper behind me, but I’ve suddenly forgotten to care. Whatever he was going to say, I doubt it was in protest.
Hisao is the first to pull away, smirking at me with a kind of childish joy in his eyes.
“Hmmm, something you should know,” he feigns thinking, “Well, my mother wasn’t exactly sold on the idea of you visiting, but don’t worry about that.”
“How not sold are we talking?” I ask alarmed.
“It’s nothing, don’t worry.”
He looks suddenly guilty, looking at the view outside the window with intense interest.
I begin to question him further, but I’m interrupted by my ringing phone. Diving for my bag I manage to withdraw it on the fourth ring. Gah, these shorts may show off my legs, but they leave no room for pockets.
Flipping open the worn device I look at the screen.
“Hey,” I answer, blowing Hisao a kiss as I swiftly retreat to the space next to the doors. Business suit man really would start a riot if I spoke on my phone in the carriage proper.
“Hi!” She responds happily, “How are things going?”
“Not so badly, on the train to Hisao’s parents.”
“Ohhhhh, are you nervous?”
More so now that I know that at least fifty percent of his parental unit ‘isn’t sold’ on me being there.
“A little - how are the Kurimizus?” I ask, changing the subject.
“Oh they are lovely, everyone is so nice and Ryouta’s little sister is just the cutest thing in the world.”
“You can’t keep her,” I warn, only half in jest.
“That’s what Ryouta said…” In my mind's eye I can see the agitated look on her face. I’ll have to remember to give Ryouta a high five for that.
“Anyway you’re going to love her.”
“I wasn’t aware we would be meeting?”
“Oh, yeah, thats right, you don’t know.” She pauses, and I can hear some shrill giggling on the other end of the phone. “That’s why I was phoning really, mum and dad have invited Ryouta’s family to our beach house near Fukuoka.”
Because of course they have a beach house.
“Will there be enough room for us all?” I ask, picturing a square wooden stilted affair like the one my grandparents once owned.
“Of course!” I get a hint of amusement in her tone, “If you tell me Hisao’s address dad is going to send a car.”
“I don’t mind using the train,” I say. I already owe the Komaki family a lot.
“Don’t worry about that, just text me the address when you know okay?”
“O… Okay,” I reply, unsure if I should continue to fight this or not. I know her family has a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean I should take advantage of them.
There’s a thud followed by a loud wail on the other end of the phone. “Oh shoot - I need to go,” Ikuno says quickly, “I’ll see you on the weekend! Text me later okay?”
“I will,” I manage to say, before the line goes dead. I find myself shaking my head as I snap my phone shut. At least she’s having fun, I’m not sure I will be having as much at Hisao’s.
My boyfriend has his head in a book when I get back to my seat. He’s so engrossed that he does not seem to notice my return. Deciding I don’t want to disturb him I rest my head once again against the cool glass, before me lies a sea of swaying grass as far as the eye can see. If I manage to survive the next few days I’m going to come back and visit this place, see something beautiful without a train window in the way for once.
— — —
Just breathe, just breathe… don’t do anything stupid.
I rapidly run through my mental checklist as Hisao flags down a shiny silver car outside the busy station. The car, a german business solon, pulls up to the curb beside us. Right, clothes on, stump mostly hidden, hair fine, I can do this.
Sliding to a stop beside us the car glows softly in the early afternoon light. It’s smooth angled bodywork fits in well with the towering skyscrapers around us. Despite carrying the title of ‘City’ this place is nothing like home, it’s bigger and more crowded, like an out of control ant nest.
“Hi,” Hisao says nervously as a small woman climbs from the passenger seat of the car, a wide smile plastering her delicate face. I guess I now know where Hisao got his rather unique eye colour.
“Hey you,” his mother says, embracing her son fiercely. Her hair shines a rich black, and I would bet it’s been dyed recently. I’m not sure what I was expecting, someone less obviously loving from Hisao’s description.
In fact the small woman carries herself well, dressed in a neat skirt and blouse, age either not affecting her, or battled artificially.
Hope I look that good at her age.
Wincing I watch as he raises a hand to protect his chest, not that his enthusiastic parent seems to notice. A door slams beside me, and I find myself meeting the eyes of a tall well built man. Hisao’s father.
Much like my grandfather he is tall and muscular, but his face is kind, and his greying hairline betrays either his age, or a whole lot of worry. We share a nod across the top of the car, as I step back, feeling like I’m intruding on something deeply private.
“Mum,” Hisao says, finally escaping and holding her at arm’s length. “This is Miki Miura, she’s a friend from school.”
I guess we’re not quite at the stage where I’m introduced as the girlfriend.
Which might be just as well, because the look his mother gives me is pure venom. Great, I mean I was anticipating this, but that does not make it any better.
I bow as politely as I can muster, feeling incurably vulnerable as I expose the back of my neck to her. This is just super, Hisao could have least given me more of a heads up that I was hated.
“A pleasure Miss Miura,” His father says when it becomes apparent no one else is going to speak. “I’m Haru Nakai, Hisao’s father.”
He strolls confidently around the front of the his car, and we share a low bow. At least he seems to like me.
Or at least, hasn’t made it completely obvious he dislikes me.
“Noa,” his mother says coldly, as way of an introduction.
“Thank you for allowing me to stay with you Mister and Misses Nakai.”
With our brief pleasantries out of the way, attention is shifted back to Hisao, who seems happy enough - if a little overwhelmed by all the attention. I feel like a voyeur as I climb into the plush back seat of the car, an observer to a normal, happy family, reunited after a long time apart.
It’s strange, this is a part of life that for most people is completely normal - yet for me it’s like seeing alien life for the first time.
I keep quiet while the family talks reservedly about Yamaku, about the subjects Hisao enjoys and his plans for when school finishes. I wither a little under the look Noa gives me when her son tells her he will be seeing where I am going, before choosing his university. I don’t suppose telling her I will probably be in prison will help.
After an agonizingly long time we pull into an underground carpark, under a towering block of flats. And here I was thinking he lived in a house.
I suppose it makes sense, land here is at a premium, and a desire to live close to the centre of everything drives people on top of each other.
His parents do a spirited job of ignoring my stump as they hand over the luggage, and the rumble of plastic wheels echoing on concrete are the only sounds in the awkward silence as we make our way to the lift - I hang back, feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
Once inside the cramped metal box Hisao’s father pushes the button for the top floor. My stomach lurches as the lift shoots us towards our destination. With the nerves and the sudden movement of the lift I feel just about ready to throw up.
Closing my eyes, I try to breathe steadily in and out, hoping to relax before we reach our floor.
The lift doors part smoothly, revealing a carpeted hallway. I wasn’t expecting that. The space is almost void of natural light, only a solitary window far off at the end of the corridor offers a view of the outside world. Otherwise warm yellow uplighters line the cream walls. It’s kind of like the dorms at Yamaku, only without the smell of mixed perfume, or mixed boy in the case of Ryouta and Hisao’s accommodation.
The Nakais’ flat is the last door down, close to the window. My mouth drops open as the front door is swung open, and I catch my first glimpse of my home for the next few days. Wow.
Windows surrounding the living area on two sides, bathing the cool ultramodern creams and metallics in soft white light. Through a pair of french windows a balcony is visible, dotted with plants that have started to climb the metal railings, despite their already elevated position.
“You redecorated?” Hisao comments, slightly taken aback himself.
“Your mother has been at rather a loose end since you’ve been at school,” Mr Nakai comments with a hearty chuckle, drawing a disapproving look from his wife. Well, at least I’m not the only one.
This place makes our small neglected apartment feel like a shack. While not a completely unfair assessment, I can’t help but feel our house has more soul, it’s memories have been bled, sweated and cried into the walls. This place is almost too clean. Although, I can’t deny, the view is impressive.
“I’ll get started on lunch,” Haru comments, pulling a white apron over his impressive bulk, a smile still planted firmly on his lips. “Why don’t you show Miki where she will be sleeping?” he says with a wink.
Eager to be away from Hisao’s mother I follow him obediently, performing a kind of moving bow to my hosts.
The room Hisao leads me to is impressive to say the least, done in the same modernist style as the rest of the apartment the creams have been replaced with soft peach. A pair of silky pink curtains drift lazily in the wind from the open doors behind them. Oh my goodness! I have my own balcony!
The sun shining through the material bathes the entire room in radiant pink light. It might be my imagination, but I could swear I smell rose petals.
“This room is amazing,” I say breathlessly.
“Hmmm, I suppose.” he rubs the back of his neck nervously, “I think my parents planned on having another child, but, well obviously that never happened so we ended up with a guest room.” he finishes lamely, fidgeting where he stands.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I’m sorry about my mum…”
“Oh,” I say quickly, “Don’t worry about it.”
I suppose I shouldn’t blame him for any of this. After all it was me who - though not intentionally - made him chose between his girlfriend and his mother. I’m just thankful he’s here to support me. And who knows, his mother might warm up to me.
“But, hmm.” He goes to say something but stops; thinking better of it. “Would you like to see my room?”
A cheesy chat up line if ever I heard one.
Nodding I lay my bag beside the bed and follow Hisao to the next door down the corridor, easy recognisable as my boyfriend’s room by the childish letters stuck to the surface, spelling his name. I smile at them, a little relic from his childhood, like the dusty children books stored in my own room.
With a blush he opens the door, revealing a room untouched by the apartment’s makeover. Stale air hits us as we step inside, it feels a little like walking into a tomb. At least Miss Kita had the sense to open a window in my room.
In fact it seems like no one has done anything in this room for a very long time. Clothes lie untouched on the floor, and the bed is unmade; a games console lies underneath a decently sized television, covered in a thin layer of dust.
Hisao apologies, hastening to open a window and kicking clothes into a crumpled pile.
“It’s okay.” I’m a little taken aback. Why would no one clean this room? He’s not close to his parents, but from this it’s almost like they are actively pretending they don’t have a son.
“Not one for housekeeping huh?” I ask, trying to sound lighthearted.
“I,” he pauses, not looking at me. “I went straight from the hospital to Yamaku, I’ve not been here in, ages.”
“Did, your heart... Was it...” My eyes drift to his unmade bed. “Did it happen here?”
I might be pushing my boundaries with that question, but his untouched room has sparked my curiosity.
“No.” His voice is suddenly firm, as he raises a hand to rub at his chest.
“I’m sorry,” I reply quickly, feeling immediately guilty. I try to change the subject. “Do you have any good games?”
Meeting his confused eyes I point to the games console.
“Yeah, but,” his gaze flickers to my stump.
“What? Afraid you’re going to lose to a girl with one hand?” I say with a raised eyebrow, crossing my arms.
We stare each other down for a few moments, before Hisao breaks, and a wide grin crosses his face. Excellent, I’ve always wanted a go on one of these things.
— — —
Time flies as Hisao and I battle our way through waves of brightly coloured aliens. It’s fun.
Though not exactly designed with lopsided people in mind - still some creative use of my stump and using my knee to press the fire button works well enough. Finally the biggest meanest monster we have thus far encountered falls to a barrage of our well coordinated laser fire.
“Yes!” I yelp excitedly, as our virtual selves are plucked to safety by a spaceship in a dramatic cut scene.
“Nice work!” My boyfriend replies, just as thrilled.
To my great surprise leans over and plants a kiss on my cheek. Video games? It took video games to give him the courage to kiss me first?
“Uh hmm,” a gruff throat is cleaned behind us, causing Hisao to spring away from me as if were electrically charged. Feeling heat rush to my cheeks I turn, just in time to see a wide grin spread across Mr Nakai’s face.
“Lunch is served,” he announces with a bow. Still with a very Ryouta-like grin planted on his lips.
Great, just great - at least it wasn’t his mother who caught us.
I risk another look at the breathtaking view as we sit around a low table. I’m afraid if I look to long I might become mesmerised and do something to embarrass myself. The Nakais, or more accurately Mrs Nakai seems to have a taste for the traditional, even in her ultra modern apartment.
Oh, I hope they don’t expect me to pour tea.
It’s one of those skills I never learned, or had even the slightest inclination to try. Lucky enough Hisao’s mother handles the pouring of the tea with a grace that I would never have been able to match. And not just because I’m lacking a hand.
Meanwhile Hisao’s father, is delivering plate after plate of steaming food to the table. The mix of smells is intoxicating. I feel like I’ve not eaten all day, despite a hearty breakfast this morning. Saving the universe really takes it out of you.
“This all looks delicious Mr Nakai,” I say, trying my level best to sound like the kind of nice young lady this family might want.
“Thank you, but call me Haru. I was afraid your boyfriend might have warned you off my cooking.” He chuckles lightly, while his wife glares at me.
Hey! He said boyfriend… not me.
“Daaaad,” Hisao groans, his cheeks reddening. “He used to make me taste all of his creations when he was teaching himself.” He adds as explanation.
“Every artist has an experimental phase. You should be proud to be part of the process.”
Kneeling at the head of the table, Haru towers over us, his massive frame dominating the room. But a smile seems never far from his lips, and he seems to have an aura of great kindness about him. It’s like seeing an older version of Ryouta - One that has gone to the gym once in awhile.
“So are you still playing soccer?” My host asks his son, tucking into his food with reckless abandon.
I take his actions as a cue to pick up my own chopsticks, before adding a little of everything to my plate. I can feel his mother’s eyes on me, but I don’t dare to look up. I just want to get through this meal without an argument.
“I’m not allowed,” Hisao answers with a tinge of regret. “I run with Miki though,” he says almost consolingly.
“Is that safe?” Noa says suddenly, turning her attention back to her son. She’s like that big red eye thing in Ryouta’s movie with the cute elf - I forget the name.
“Of course it is, the nurse even recommended it.” I notice there’s a note of aggravation in my boyfriend’s otherwise polite reply.
“So you are on the track team?” Haru asks, trying to drag the conversation back from the riptide that is Hisao’s mother.
“No, I’m not,” Hisao takes a bite of his food before speaking again, “Miki is though. She’s one of the fastest girls in the school.”
That’s the fastest girl in the school thank you very much - Assuming, it’s the four hundred meters and I sacrifice every other event…
I feel my cheeks redden, and busy myself with my chopsticks, not looking at anyone.
“Do you have many other
friends at school?” The Nakai matriarch asks with sickly sweet venom.
“Some, but I spend most of my time with Miki,” Hisao shrugs, “Why?”
“Oh, no reason, just curious.”
Hisao would forgive me if I punched his mother right?
“Well, I am glad to see my boy finally spending some time with a girl, I was beginning to wonder,” Haru says with a hearty chuckle. It’s hard to tell if he’s joking or not.
“He did spend a lot of time with a girl before, do you not remember dear?” Noa speaks to her husband, but her hawk-like gaze is fixed on me.
“Mum…” Hisao mutters in a halfhearted warning.
“There was that girl that kept visiting you in the hospital, you two were very close weren’t you?” She continues as if her son had made no interruption. “Iwanako wasn’t it? She wrote asking for the address of your new school, did she ever get in contact?”
With a considerable amount of effort I force what I hope is a neutral look on my face. I can’t let her have even the smallest victory over me.
This is a type of warfare I hate, the sly passive aggressive remarks, the sneering joy as she under the illusion of innocent conversation tries to drive a wedge between Hisao and me. I would much rather we tore each others hair out on the kitchen floor.
However perhaps it’s not my reaction she should be worried about. Hisao’s face may be bright red in embarrassment, but under the table beside me his fist his clenched so hard his knuckles shine a pearlescent white. Wishing I could comfort him, explain that I don’t care who he used to date and that his mother would never drive us apart. But none of those options are open to me, all I can do is return to my food.
Hisao mutters some response that I don’t catch and returns to his plate as silence falls across the table. Haru catches my eye and raises his eyebrows in an apologetic kind of way, apparently he’s as wary of his wife as I am. These next few days are going to be hell.
The only real comfort I have is the prospect of level two on the games console. Though even gunning down virtual aliens has lost a bit of its charm, now that I know the real monster is picking at her rice in front of me.
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