Happy Star Wars day everyone! To celebrate here’s chapter 14, that has nothing to do with Star Wars. Well, anyway it’s fresh back from the proofreaders. For some fun trivia on this chapter: The section before the first time skip took me longer to write than the rest of the chapter.
Anyway, relax, enjoying and May the 4th be with you.
Limited Time Offer
I sigh contentedly, after spending the last hour or so following my feet down vaguely familiar streets it feels amazing to step into a luxuriously hot bath, I hope no one needs a shower this morning, because this room is officially mine.
With a small splash I submerge my stump under the white fluffy bubbles. I might have gone a bit over the top with the bubble bath, nah more is always better.
It’s nice being able to hide my deformity, at school in the showers I'm forced to see it, even when I try and look away it draws me back. Like that biology video about slug mating, both fascinating and disgusting.
I hope dad managed to get some sleep last night after our talk, he did look better once he had his story off his chest. I guess it works with my bad dreams, once I talk to Ikuno I feel much better.
Part of me thinks I should be trying harder to resent him. It’s ridiculous I know, but it feels like I'm not reacting properly
. People in movies don’t move on this fast do they? They have all these issues that can only be worked through by saving the world.
These thoughts are too complicated and confusing after a sleepless night.
“I think it kinda looks like Shizune,” Ryouta says peering through a wall of netting at a beautiful owl, perched on a barren tree branch.
“That’s mean,” I scold, though now I look at it with dark rings around its eyes I can see the resemblance. At my suggestion we have come to the local zoo, I always liked it here when I was little and not so cynical.
Ryouta checks his phone for what has to be the tenth time as we walk between two cages filled with seemingly very bored animals. I wonder if this is what the Yamaku festival looks like to visitors?
“What’s she doing today?” I ask softly. Not many things bother Ryouta, Ikuno might be one of them.
“She said she was shopping in the city with her mum,” he sighs.
“Well then, she’s going to be distracted right?”
“I guess, It’s just-“
“Mummy what's wrong with their arms?” A shrill voice shouts from somewhere behind us. My cheeks start to burn as I see a young girl pointing at us, a look of shock on her face. Every pair of eyes in the vicinity turns to us. Perhaps I should run, Ryouta would catch up, eventually.
To my surprise Ryouta laughs, answering clearly, “You see all the signs that say don’t feed the animals?”
The little girl nods, her mother as red with embarrassment as I am.
“Well,” he holds out his stump. “That's what happens when you ignore them.”
She gasps, turning to her mother, “You said we could feed the goats later!” With her hands on her hips and indigent look on her face it’s like seeing our class rep at age three. Her mother, who throws us a look somewhere between annoyance and apology hurries away with her child in tow. Free show over and light chuckle had, the crowd disperses, still throwing us interested looks.
“You okay?” he asks, his smile faltering as he catches the look on my face.
“How do you do that?” I ask, my hand tingling for the first time in days.
“Oh, she wasn’t being cruel, just curious I think.” He shrugs, “You get used to it.”
“Do you?” I ask sombrely.
“Yes grumpy, you do.” linking his stumped arm through mine, he grins. “Now, let's get you some ice cream! Then sea lions!”
I follow him, shaking my head but with a smile on my face, his excitement is infectious.
“What?” he laughs, seeming to have forgot his phone and his worries. “No one can feel self conscious around sea lions.”
After stopping off at the open air stands for some strawberry Ice cream, we head to the sea lion pool, licking our treats. Having missed the show, we sit in the empty stands. Watching the animals, that seem to be having more fun doing their own thing anyway.
“So what were you saying?’ I ask.
“Before the shouting toddler?”
“Oh, that,” he kicks at the dusty ground. “I was going to say, I’ve never had a girlfriend.”
“Okay?” I ask cautiously, raising my eyebrow
“I don’t want to mess things up.”
“Well, I don’t think that’s likely is it? I mean you're a fun guy and Ikuno likes spending her time with you,” I shrug. I'm missing something.
“People say they like spending time with me.” Scraping his foot on the dusty floor he continues, his voice quiet. “In middle school I used to hang around with a bunch of people, they used to say they where my friends.”
Ryouta looks more sombre than I’ve ever seen him before.
“They used to joke around a lot, normally about me or my arm you know? I didn’t know better, I thought it was normal.” He stares at his feet. “I invited them all to my thirteenth birthday party, none of them showed up. The next day at school they acted like it was all a joke, like I was a joke.”
Should I hug him? He looks like he needs a hug.
I don’t know the rules for comforting someone else’s boyfriend.
“I don’t want Ikuno to think I'm just a joke.” He sighs.
I never really considered Ryouta as the kind of person to be friendless, he’s always so outgoing and friendly. I guess people must get bullied at Yamaku, though I've never seen it.
“I don’t think you're a joke…” I say softly, “You make this,” I hold up my stump shyly. “Well you make me feel better, and if Ikuno has any sense in her head she will feel lucky to have you.”
He nods slowly, I don’t think he quite believes me. Ikuno cares about him though, I guess he will learn that sooner or later.
“Thanks Miki,” he says softly, giving me a one armed hug, before withdrawing his phone. Shaking my head at him I return to my ice-cream, watching the sea-lions play in the sunlit water. Despite my cynicism, I still like the zoo.
— — —
Having gotten back from the zoo Ryouta has disappeared into my room to phone his beloved. While mum helps Miss Kita in the kitchen, I join Dad on the sofa, my eyes drifting automatically to the television screen. Why is nothing interesting ever on?
Sitting like two strangers at a bus stop we watch in silence.
“Hey Miki,” he says softly, turning to me with a smile.
“Hi,” I say, my eyes fixed on the screen.
Slowly we start to chit chat. It’s strange, when we knew there was something we needed to talk about the words came easily. Simple conversation seems harder though. It’s okay, new friendships take time.
“So what are your plans for after school?” he asks.
Can I tell him what I couldn’t tell my boyfriend?
“Promise not to laugh?” I say, intently watching the silent news presenter talk into the camera.
“I was kinda thinking about becoming a physical therapist,” I grimace. It’s a stupid idea really, I'm not smart enough for one thing and for another I don’t even know if you can be a one handed therapist.
“That's a good profession, but why physical therapist in particular?”
“In the hospital she was the only doctor I got on with, or seemed willing to help,” I laugh softly. “I'm not even sure she was a doctor.”
The smiling Australian, who despite my formidable protests and rotten mood got me back on track, pops into my mind's eye. It’s a stupid goal, but it’s something to aim for none the less.
Perhaps I could ask the nurse what he thinks? He’s like a grown up Slightly
more mature Ryouta, but I get the feeling he would give me some good advice.
Ryouta picks this moment to emerge from my room, firing a bright knowing smile in my direction. Oh that is never good.
I consider running straight to my room to search for booby traps or missing underwear. I knew I shouldn’t have left him in there alone.
Unfortunately dinner gets in the way of my search efforts. Tonight my food has been left untouched by miss Kita, though she still gives me pitying looks from across the table. Blah, normal people.
“Please dear, if you need help just ask.” Miss Kita says despairingly.
“She can do it, leave her be,” mum interjects sternly.
With a new found appreciation for my mother we spend the rest of the meal chatting happily about school. As it turns out she was somewhat of a track star herself during her school days, as well as being her class rep. It’s hard to picture her before the drinking.
I'm helping to clear the table when a knock on the door stops everyone in their tracks. We look at each other, it's evening too late for most visitors. No one seems keen to make the first move. Fine
. Edging towards the door with dad in tow I pick up an umbrella from the stand. Getting ready to slam it in any intruders face, slowly I open the door.
The sight that greets me takes my breath away. Ayumu eyes shut tight stands in a long coat, a bag at his feet. He looks positively terrified.
“A… Ayumu?” I stammer.
“Miki!” He smiles brightly in relief. “I was worried I had the wrong house, again.”
Somewhere out on the street a car horn sounds, disturbing the quiet night air and setting off a horde of barking dogs.
“Oh yes!” Ayumu stuffs a hand full of crumpled notes towards me. “Can you pay the taxi please?”
“S..sure,” I stumble, pulling my shoes on. “Come in,” I exclaim excitedly, letting him tap his way inside the house. I tell him to make himself comfortable, Before I dart out into the cool night. Finding the yellow cab waiting by the curb, I jog over, the driver throwing me an irritated look.
“Did that kid find the right house yet? I’ve been driving around for hours.”
Isn’t driving around your job?
“He did, thank you for your patience, how much is it?”
Handing over the correct change I return to the house as the grumbling driver speeds away. I only find Ayumu’s shoes in the doorway, kicking mine off quickly I rush into the living room.
“Surprise!” Ryouta grins at me. So this is what he was smiling about.
At least that means my room is safe. Right
Ayumu, stands nervously in front of my parents and Miss Kita waiting for introductions.
“Mum, dad,” I say timidly. “This is Ayumu Akiyama, my, err… Boyfriend.”
“A joy to meet you,” he says with a low bow, not quite facing my parents. Why does no one prepare you for situations like this?
“It’s nice to meet you Ayumu, I'm Miki’s father,” I notice a distinct change in his voice, like he’s trying to sound tough. Apparently pleased with the effect he turns to mum. Who unfortunately is too busy eyeing Ayumu up and down, she gives me a not so subtle wink.
“This is an unexpected visit, I'm Haruka Miura, Miki’s mother” by contrast her tone is light and polite.
“How did you even get here?” I ask, not quite over the shock, but able to talk normally again at least.
“Ryouta kindly provided your address, I took a train and then that taxi”
“But your mum?” I take his hand, causing him to jump.
“I explained that I wanted to see you, and that I could spend ample time with her after graduation.”
Out of the corner of my eye I notice the silent Miss Kita wince at his use of the word ‘see’.
“A kind gesture, but I'm afraid we don’t have any sleeping accommodation for you at the moment,” my dad states solemnly, though it’s not hard to hear the glee in his voice.
“He’ll share with me,” I say. It’s not a question.
“Miki, if your father is against it,” Ayumu says timidly.
“My father wants to get to know me,” I feel my temper start to rise. Control yourself.
Taking a deep breath I continue before anyone can interrupt. “This is me, I'm not a child anymore.”
“I… well, what do you think about this?” With a look of desperation he turns to my mother.
She smiles at me, “I agree with her, she’s a big girl now she can make these choices.”
My dad looks like he wants to keep arguing, happily the awkward silence is broken by Miss Kita, who I'm pleased to see looks stunned, when she says she must be heading home. With a layer of tension still in the air we break apart, saying our quiet goodnights.
I lead a stunned Ayumu and Ryouta into my room. See this is why I don’t show people what my life is like, it scares and confuses them.
I settle Ayumu down on the bed, before turning on the plump figure beside my bookshelf.
“I suppose thanks are in order,” I grumble gesturing to the bed. “But you could have told me?”
“Wouldn’t be a surprise otherwise,” He shrugs. “But Miki, your parents? The way you spoke to them.” He shakes his head, half in disapproval and half in disbelief. “Mine would kick me out if I spoke to like that.”
“Mine to,” Ayumu adds.
“I'm not like you guys, they were never around when I was younger.” I didn’t realise that would sting so much to admit. Perhaps I'm not as fine as I think I am.
“They don’t get to come back into my life and tell me how to act.”
“You're a braver man than I,” Ryouta grins, dodging my playful jab. Damn his Miki senses are getting stronger.
“But are you not worried they are going to throw us out of their home?” My boyfriend asks behind me.
I laugh, more cruelly than I intended. “This isn’t their house, it's my grandfather’s.” Well my dirty laundry is already on display.
They might as well know. I won’t be accused of doing my ‘Miki thing’.
“He pays for everything, Yamaku, this place, the housekeeper, everything.”
“Oh,” both boys seem a little lost for words.
“Look, despite everything things are actually better than they have been in a long time,” I say, trying to lighten the mood.
With the one sided conversation dwindling to a close I wish Ryouta a goodnight, closing my door behind him and slip into my pyjamas. Climbing into bed to snuggle up against the bare chest of my unexpected visitor.
“I'm sorry I’ve caused you such distress,” Ayumu mumbles into my hair.
“You’ve not, I'm happy your here,” I whisper, moving up to find his lips. “Did your mum really not have a problem with you being here?” I ask.
“I admit we have quite clear yet different views on the subject, I think in time she will come to understand the error of her judgments.”
I can’t help but giggle. “I have no idea what you just said.”
“Oh,” he laughs softly, wrapping his arms around me. “She’s not your biggest fan, but that's okay, because I am.”
“What did I do?” I ask incredulously.
“You stole her son away for your sultry pleasures.”
Yawning I snuggle my back against him, pulling his arms around me. “Guilty,” I mumble.
— — —
“Want a ride?”
A dozen eyes turn towards me, as Tatsuo standing coolly in a leather coat picks me out of the crowd. Blushing I stumble forward.
“Me?” I ask, reaching him.
“Who else?” He rolls his eyes, drawing a laugh from the crowd that he plays like a conductor. “Get in.” I feel jealous eyes on my back as I climb up into the truck, turning to grin at the people around us before I take my seat.
“Where are we going?” I ask excitedly, clipping in my seat belt.
Saying nothing he pulls out onto the road with a screech of tyres. I grab hold of the door handle startled by the sudden movement. “H..hey where are we going?”
Nothing, his eyes are fixed on the road. We take a left bursting out of city streets onto a wide open suspension bridge, only sky is visible beyond the railings on either side of the span. The truck lurches forward as it starts to accelerate.
“I don’t like this, slow down, please!” The panic is audible in my voice.
Disregarding me completely Tatsuo steers the truck through a set of construction barriers. Ahead I can see the bridge comes to a sudden end. We are going to drive straight off the edge!
“Tatsuo the bridge!” I panic, grabbing his arm. It’s solid as steel. “Stop! Stop! No!”
The world goes completely silent as we drive into thin air. I cross my arms in front of my face as the cold dead water speeds towards us, a long shrill scream the last thing I hear before my world goes black.
“Miki? Miki? Wake up!” Someone is shaking my shoulders in panic as I emerge from the blackness. I try and push off whoever is shaking me. Where am I? Where’s Tatsuo?
“W…wha-“ it feels like someone is holding a blow torch to my fingers, I try and move them but they don’t respond. I could stop the pain, if I could just move my fingers away.
Why am I not wet? we just fell into the water didn’t we?
“Miki!” Finally snapping to my senses, I realise I'm in my room and that my boyfriend is shaking me awake. Normally I don’t feel so confused after dreams, must be something about being at home.
“I'm sorry,” I stammer, pushing my stump into my stomach. “It was just a dream, just a stupid dream.”
I can only imagine what he thinks about me now.
“You were shouting?” he says softly, settling down next to me.
“Was I?” I wince, distracted by the pain of my little finger bending back on itself. Wiggling free of his arms I slide out of bed, pacing up and down quickly. I’ve not told him about the phantom pains and now is not the time. Ayumu sit's up in bed, his arms wrapped around his legs.
“Sorry, it’s not you,” I sigh, digging through my bag for my running clothes. “I just get a little shaken after dreams, I just need a run.”
“How about a walk?” He asks.
“A brisk walk?” He suggests swinging his legs over the edge of the bed.
I guess there's no hiding from him now, at least I didn’t scream. Though I did shout apparently. Please don’t say I shouted another boys name in my sleep.
Hastily passing him his discarded clothes I start to dress in the darkness, the process hindered slightly by aftershocks of pain in my ghost limb. Well I guess he did want to see me in these leggings.
Exhaling softly I straighten his T-shirt. Ayumu’s hand finds mine and together we sneak past Ryouta. Mercifully the table is surrounded by empty chairs tonight.
Stepping out under a deep blue sky tinted with purple, I smile. This is my favourite time to run, enough light to see by and the streets are still deserted. I would never get up this early on purpose, running at school is normally an evening activity, done just before sunset. But I've not had much choice when I wake up of late.
“Thank you,” I say softly once we are out of ear shot of the house.
I let my feet guide me, picking a shadowy landmark and aiming for it, with Ayumu softly griping my arm.
“Staying with me.” I say softly.
A distinct frown crosses his face. I know what he’s going to say before he says it.
“I won’t always be here,” he mumbles.
Our path leads us along streets flanked with quaint traditional houses, this part of the city is old, but somehow keeps its charm. I’d Like to see those new office blocks looking this nice in 50 years.
The only inhabitant still awake at this hour is a rather large cat, who glares at us from atop his bin lid throne.
“What if we didn’t have to end?” I ask tentatively. “I mean, we both have phones and the internet.” I don’t really know how to use it but I'm sure I can learn.
Stopping in the middle of the street, he pulls me closer his fingers finding my face.
He’s either going to kiss me or dump me.
“People don’t realise how important touch is, I do. It’s the sense that connects me to the world.” he gestures around him. “I only get to share it with people who care about me, and who I care about.” He looks straight at me, it feels like for a moment he’s really looking at me.
“Without touch you are just a voice and a smell, but with it.” He brushes his thumb over my lips, leaving behind a tingling warmth. “With it, I can see how beautiful you are, feel you smile or blush, this is how I want to be with you.”
He trails his chin along his thumb bumping his lips into mine with a soft kiss.
“This is the only way I can be with you.”
He makes no apologies, pulling away. I knew this was a time limited offer when I signed up
. But now I've seen what I'm going to lose I can’t stand it. Better to end it now. Before his roots wrap around my heart completely.
But I can’t.
“Then,” I rest my forehead against his. “We have no choice but to make the most of time we have left.” I step back onto the road, our destination both far away and clearly defined. I fear what’s waiting for me at my journeys end.
No more words are needed as our lips meet.
Together we walk into the blossoming sunrise.
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