“The Tranquility of Repetition”
“It’s not a date,” I protest as Ikuno giggles in the bus seat beside me. I cannot believe I agreed to this.
“He’s a boy, you’re a girl, it’s a date.” Ikuno shrugs, playing idly with her phone.
I think this is the first time I’ve been to the city with her - or that I’ve been back to the city at all since that magical night under the captured stars in December. Shopping trips are not really my thing, unless I know I need something, but Ikuno likes them.
“So you don’t like him?” she asks, feigning innocence.
“I didn’t say that.” I turn my attention back to the window, watching the overcast sky drift past, hopefully it will brighten up for the festival tomorrow. Though if it rains perhaps I can stay in bed.
Luckily in return payment for the terrible shifts I got last year Ikuno has gotten me a single morning slot. I knew having a mole on the student council would come in handy.
“Well honestly, I think he’s good for you, you’ve been in a better mood these last three days than I can remember.” She frowns a little, her large blue eyes shimmering slightly in the pale light. I didn’t mean to make her worry.
The fact remains though that she’s right. With Hisao around to distract me I’ve been thinking about Ayumu less. He’s not forgotten but more faded.
My dreams, though still troubling, have subsided slightly. Whereas before I would dream a fragment of my memory, now it seems like they are all thrown together, played back inside my head in a seemingly random order. Images and experiences are thrown at me so fast I can barely keep up, until eventually I find myself paralysed inside a decimated truck cab.
“He won’t replace Ayumu,” I say sternly.
“I never said he would,” Ikuno frowns. “But you shouldn’t give up on boys at eighteen, plus I kind of miss double dating with you.”
I laugh. Perhaps she’s right. Ayumu has for all intents and purposes vanished from my life. I had hoped he would at least find time to phone me, even a handwritten letter would have done. Hell, I could have found someone to read braille if necessary.
“So, what are you shopping for again?” I ask, changing the subject.
“We,” she corrects, “are shopping for kimonos for tomorrow, plus anything else that looks fun!”
Ikuno’s calm, almost shy attitude at school is replaced completely when shopping. It’s almost like a power trip. Although nothing has been spoken aloud, it’s quite clear to all of us that Ikuno’s family have the funds for almost anything they want. When Ikuno goes shopping, she does so knowing no price is ever to high.
“Well, I guess if we find something that looks nice.” I grin, luckily I can fill out most garments, though sometimes my lanky frame and the tone I’ve built up through running pose a challenge. If Ikuno just let me live in jeans and baggy t-shirts there wouldn’t be a problem.
“Ikuno, I won’t be able to afford anything around here,” I say, frowning at the dazzling shop fronts. My best friend has dragged me into an unfamiliar part of the city. English words like ’New York’ and ‘London” under signs denote the price of the clothing within. I feel completely out of place, my bandaged stump and modest dress drawing the eyes of people who have money, and want other people to know about it.
“Oh, don’t worry about that! It’s a birthday present.” Ikuno giggles, her bright eyes gleaming as she surveys the luxury stores for a promising target.
“Firstly, it’s not my birthday and secondly you already got me a birthday present, we went out for lunch remember?” I don’t know if I’m entirely comfortable with someone else spending money on me, I suppose it’s what my grandfather has been doing for the last ten years, but that’s different. He’s a parent, Ikuno is a friend.
“Did I?” she shrugs, choosing a white-fronted boutique and making for it with a speed that seems unnatural for her. “Well, you can never have enough birthday presents.”
I protest but entering the store takes my breath away. Inside it’s more like a hotel than a clothes store, modern metal and glass-partitioned walls give way to smooth beach panelling. The clothing in the shop is laid delicately on shelves, or hung from flowing metal rails. Ikuno’s eyes light up in delight, but however much I might like the decor, the whole place seems a bit pretentious.
“Welcome, may I help you find what you’re looking for today?” A small woman, dressed in a radiant tight red dress approaches us, bowing low. Her hair and make-up are pristine - she looks better in her work clothes than most people do in their wedding attire.
“Kimonos please,” Ikuno says with a relaxed air, her confidence is almost startling, I feel like I should be apologising to this neatly dressed women for intruding on her shop.
With a low bow we are led to the back of the store, Ikuno with her head held high. The shop is stretching back farther than I expect, and we are brought to an hexagonal room. Mirrors alternate with racks displaying immaculate Kimonos in every style imaginable. Reflected in four mirrors simultaneously I catch the stunned look on my face.
Can’t hurt to try some things on can it?
The next hour is spent trying on clothes, giggling and admiring ourselves in the many mirrors, much to our host’s delight. She moves around the racks with the grace of a ballroom dancer, eyeing us up and down before selecting a garment. Standing side by side in front of the mirror Ikuno and I admire ourselves. She’s chosen a rose pink fabric with delicate vines the colour of pearls spiral around her body, it looks stunning.
“What do you think?” Ikuno asks, a dreamy look on her face.
“I love it.” I grin, admiring my own Kimono, a soft white fabric interspersed with purple Lillies the colour of my hair. This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever worn.
However no matter how like a princess this dress makes me feel, I can’t see a price tag. If I have to ask I can’t afford. But, I can just spend a little more time in it.
“We’ll take them.” Ikuno says confidently, pulling her purse out of her handbag.
“Ikuno no,” I interject, stepping between the store assistant and my best friend, who is about to spend a small fortune on me. With a giggle Ikuno withdraws a credit card, even this simple piece of plastic looks pricey, inlaid with golden lettering.
“It’s a birthday present Miki. It’s very rude to refuse presents!” Her grin is devilish.
I squirm in front of her. “But I will never be able to pay you back.” my voice whines slightly; defeated. I really do love this Kimono more than I can say, it suits me perfectly.
“Fine, you pay for lunch, then we’re even, agreed?”
Before I can say anything she sidesteps me, swaying slightly, to hand over her card. Seemingly happy to be making a sale today the women in red rushes off. She must get paid through commission. Thanking Ikuno repeatedly I start to very carefully slide off the beautiful fabric, Ikuno does the same, unsteady on her feet.
“Do you need to, you know, check yourself?” I ask softly, it’s a touchy subject, but I don’t want her passing out and smashing one of these mirrors. For a moment a flash of anger touches Ikuno’s face, before she turns away, nodding ever so slightly.
“I just need something to eat. It will be okay to finish up here.”
I breathe a sigh of relief, I really didn’t want to fall out with her again.
“Well then, I better find the best cake in the city for lunch.”
— — —
Thirty minutes later we sit at a well worn table, dappled in soft sunlight cast by a swaying tree, bursting with new spring life. After stumbling down several side streets, with Ikuno looking paler with each passing moment I came across this coffee shop. The prices are reasonable, and the cake is good, the best of both worlds.
“This is really good,” Ikuno says, nodding to her spoonful of bright pink cake.
“Ummm hmmm.” I agree, my mouth full.
My newly purchased Kimono sits boxed and bagged at my ankle, where I keep an attentive watch on it. Ikuno, though happy with her Kimono, is much laxer, leaning back in her seat.
“So what have you and Ryouta got planed for tomorrow?” I ask between mouthfuls.
“Well, my parents are coming to the festival,” she says, her eyes fixed on her plate.
“Cool, so you and Ryouta are spending time with them?”
She chews slowly, not meeting my eye. Did she not hear me?
“I’ve not told them,” she admits guiltily.
“…Why?” I stammer, stunned.
“I never really got around to it.”
“You’ve been going out for close to a year!” I protest, “How could you have forgotten to mention it.”
“I know, don’t remind me,” she groans, hiding her face between her folded arms, leaning on the table.
“What does Ryouta think of this?”
Her ears redden, but she remains silence.
“Ikuno,” I pause, “Ryouta does know you’ve not told your parents about him, right?”
“Worse,” she mutters, her voice muffled. “He doesn’t even know they are coming to the festival.”
“…Shit.” I say, half impressed with how much she’s managed to screw up.
“So, just to be clear, Ryouta is expecting to spend the day with you tomorrow. But in reality he’s being stood up for your parents, who don’t know you are going out with him.” Saying it aloud helps clarify the details in my own head. I thought I had boy troubles, but this is something else.
“What am I going to do?” She moans.
“Well, first you should be honest with Ryouta, as soon as we get back to school if not sooner.”
A groan indicates she’s not a fan of this idea, but she nods anyway. Poor Ryouta.
“Then you tell your mum and dad about your boyfriend.” It’s the best advice I can give, but I don’t think it will be enough, I can’t see a way out of this without major fallout. I just hope their relationship can outlast this.
A sniff distracts me. Ikuno is crying gently into her arm, her petite frame shaking softly. Reaching across the table I take the back of her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
“Hey, whatever happens I will be there, okay?”
She nods slowly, as teardrops stain the aged wood.
— — —
Roaring all around us, the crowd feels like a single living entity, trying to catch us in it’s clutches. Swearing to myself I pull a red-faced Hisao to the sidelines, bursting out of the thong of people. Why did we decide to meet in the busiest place of the festival?
Now that there is some breathing room I can get a good look at my companion for the day, neatly dressed with his hair combed back, he polishes up well - in fact he could easily slip away into the crowd. Spend the day as a visitor to this freak show, not an attraction.
“You look nice,” he says bashfully.
I feel my cheeks go bright red. Damn it.
“Thanks, so… so do you.” I stammer quietly.
Hugging my arms across my chest I look around awkwardly, while he does the same, rubbing the length of his arm with the flat of his hand.
“So, what do you want to do?” I ask, forcing my voice back to normal levels.
“I dunno.” He shrugs slightly. “You invited me, I assumed you had a plan?”
“Well, that’s a dangerous assumption,” I say, raising my eyebrows at him.
“Sorry,” he says, his mouth curled somewhere between a smile and a grimace, not sure if I’m joking or not.
“Well,” I grin. “What did you do before coming here? Other than read.”
He shivers very slightly, like someone has walked over his grave, or he had a haunting memory. I would know all about that.
“Hanging out at the arcade and playing soccer with my friends, not much else really.”
Why are you here Hisao Nakai?
“Well, then I think I should beat you at carnival games until I get bored, then you can buy me lunch.”
I wait while he processes what I just said, hoping he won’t become offended. Staring off into the middle distance with a dreamlike look on his face I start to become worried, what if he has epilepsy? One of the girls in my class has.
Watching an attack was horrible… I mean I guess it sucked just as much for her, but I was shaken for the rest of the day.
So, are you epileptic Nakai?
“You still with me?” I ask nervously.
“Oh,” he smiles, though it seems to be a little forced. “Just wondering what you’re going to get me for lunch when I beat you at all of these games.”
“What?” I ask, laughing at his leap of logic.
“Well, that’s how it works right, the loser buys lunch?”
“Deal,” I say, a huge smile on my face. “You watch, I will beat you singlehandedly.”
— — —
“Damn it!” I swear as my second ring flies wildly off-target, nearly assassinating Molly, who ducks for cover. Hisao and I are tied neck and neck for carnival games, I had assumed, wrongly, that arcade games would not translate into the real world.
“Are you sure this thing isn’t rigged Molly?” I demand.
“You helped set this up, you were here this morning!” She grumbles, having to bend awkwardly on her prosthetic legs to retrieve an overzealously thrown hoop of plastic. Out of the corner of my eye I see Hisao grimace. He has a lot to learn about the people here.
“If the game is rigged, how come I hit with two of my three rings?” Hisao points out mockingly.
“Listen to new boy Miura,” Molly smirks.
Just ignore them, just ignore them.
Focusing my gaze on a suitable looking peg I take a deep breath. This is my goal, I will not stop until this hoop reaches it, nothing else matters.
All three of us watch in stunned silence as the green plastic ring soars through the air, obeying some arcane laws of physics that only Mutou can understand. This is the longest second of my life, everything depends on this, well, lunch depends on this.
“Lucky,” Hisao mutters as the hoop lands perfectly on my intended target. Well okay, the peg next to my intended target, but no one needs to know that.
Raising both arms above my head I drink in my victory. Wait. Damn it, this is a draw!
“So, this means we buy each other lunch?” Hisao ventures.
“I guess so.” I grin.
“So you two are?” Molly says, a delighted smile spread across her face.
“Just friends!” I exclaim, perhaps a little too quickly.
“Sure you are.” She smirks, moving off to deal with the next customer.
Oh hell, I hate gossip.
“So, lunch?” I ask my distraction.
— — —
My head rings with Misha’s resonating laugh. Isn’t there a thing where if you make a sound at the right frequency you can collapse a building? She’s going to split my head in two any second now.
“Hello Misha!” I have to shout to make myself heard above her din. Shizune looks at me curiously. I guess for her the only difference between a shout and a whisper is the amount of strain on the speaker’s face.
“I didn’t know you and Hicchan were going to the festival together!” She smiles jubilantly, though I notice the bags under her eyes, barely hidden by her concealer. It would not surprise me if Shizune chained her to the desk and forced her to work.
I shrug, not wanting to answer her. How these two managed to sneak up on us is beyond me, Misha sneaking up on anyone seems a bit ridiculous. Hisao and I had just been enjoying lunch, seated in the shade away from the chattering crowd.
“I guess you two are pretty busy huh?” I ask, my eyes drawn to the odd look Shizune is giving me. That’s right class rep, he chose to come with me, and I don’t even like him like that. Jealous?
“Very. We have to keep this entire festival working. Your lazy friend is not around to help today.”
“I always said she was the smartest member of the student council,” I shrug.
Misha translates before seeming to realise what I just said.
“Heeeeey!” she pouts, hands on her hips, throwing out her impressive chest. Shizune meanwhile just glares at me, planning some kind divine retribution. At least I got to finish lunch first.
“Hicchan, I hope you don’t plan to spend your entire year around lazy people?” Misha translates.
“Uh, well, I dunno. I’m just trying to settle in right now.” He fidgets uncomfortably in his seat, drawn into an argument he was happy enough to observe. Poor kid.
“Yeah, Shizune, stop bullying everyone just because you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Hisao has already helped more than most transfers to a new school would.” I say levelly, keeping my temper under control. Hisao throws me a grateful look while Misha translates.
Unfortunately before any more scathing remarks can be thrown Ikuno appears, red faced and flustered, ignoring everyone else she makes a beeline for me.
“Can we talk?” she whispers hastily, clearly upset.
“Sure,” I say, getting to my feet. Catching Hisao’s confused look I grimace. Staying here is not an option, Ikuno needs me. But leaving Hisao to the whims of the student council seems cruel. Sorry kid, sacrifices must be made in war - and high school.
“I have to dash. I’m really sorry, see you in class tomorrow?”
He nods speechless, as Shizune slides into the seat I was just in, a delighted look on her face. Yeah, smile away, Hisao can see where the bad news sits. I hope.
I have to jog to keep up with Ikuno as she power walks away, sliding through the mass of people like a steam ship through an iceberg, I can see her wince as her shoulder connects with each innocent festival goer.
“Hey,” I say, grabbing her arm to slow her down. “What’s going on? Where are your parents?”
She turns to me, large eyes wide, before settling herself into step beside me. For a moment I thought she might try to punch me.
“Mum and dad have gone back to the hotel. They want to take me for dinner in the city later,” She says in one breath, steering us off the path and towards the dormitories. “I have to get ready and meet them in the car park later.”
“Okay?” I really hope she didn’t just drag me away from Hisao and my planned carnival game revenge to help her get dressed up.
“It is not okay!” She snaps, rounding on me, a fury in her eye reminiscent of our last argument. “Ryouta found me, and well, I couldn’t,” She trails off for a moment as she struggles with the heavy door.
“What did you do?” I ask frowning.
“I blanked him okay? I pretended I didn’t know him, and he just kind of… walked off.” She stamps her foot onto the first step as she climbs.
This is amazing, even though she mentioned this yesterday I really did not believe that Ikuno would be the one to mess things up, and in such style. The archetypes of our little group have been so clearly defined from the start: She’s the brains, Ryouta is the funny one, and I’m the screw up.
“Why the hell would you do that?” I groan, as she starts her fevered assault on the next flight of stairs.
“Well what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know!” she’s almost shouting now, thank goodness this building is mostly deserted. “And now he’s not answering his phone, and I have to go to dinner, and… Help, please.” She sighs defeatedly.
“Right, well you go to dinner, I will try and find Ryouta.” I try an encouraging smile, but my face betrays me. I really don’t know if there’s a coming back from this, it’s all of Ryouta’s worst fears rolled into one, and I told him not to worry about it.
Ikuno nods, struggling to undo her small black bag. An angry tug sends the contents spilling onto the carpeted floor.
“Damn it!” She yells, punching her leg hard with her hand, fat tears starting to roll down her face.
In two long steps I am crouched at her side, collecting her medical supplies from the floor. At least her electronic blood thingy seems to be undamaged. Silently I pass her the implements she requires in order, I’ve seen her do this so many times it’s become second nature without me realising it.
“I love him Miki,” She says softly as we wait for her blood sugar results.
“Does he know?”
Ikuno shakes her head, another pair of tears cutting lines though her expensive make up.
“Well, tell him. I should have.”
“You mean with Ayu-“
“Yes,” I cut her off, not wanting to discuss that matter further. The question keeps repeating itself in my mind, would he have stayed if I had told him? I don’t know, I could not even hazard a guess, he seemed to be happy with me. But.
He accepted we would part so easily, even after months of being together. I need to focus on Ikuno now.
“Look,” I say, “everything is going to be okay.”
“Y… you really think so?” She sniffs.
“Yes, now go get ready for dinner.”
— — —
There are faint gunshots coming from inside Ryouta’s room, I panic for a brief moment, before realising it must be his television. Knocking hard, I wait. The television is muted, but I hear no more sounds.
“Ryouta,” I call through the door. “I know you’re in there, open up.”
Silence, how hard is it to kick down a door? I see it in movies all the time, I take a step back, eyeing up my target. No, no this is not a good idea.
I knock again, harder this time. “Ryouta! Open up, Ikuno told me what happened.”
“Go away, Miki!” He yells back, making me flinch, he must be just on the other side of the door.
“Please? I just want to talk, make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m fine, now go away!”
Leaving isn’t an option, I promised Ikuno, but I don’t know what to tell him. Yes, despite what I said your girlfriend really didn’t tell her parents about you, and yes, perhaps blanking you was a bit rude. But come on, we all make mistakes, she loves you after all.
“Just, promise you won’t do something stupid, okay?” I regret it as soon as I say it, with a crash his door is ripped open. Ryouta stands in front of me, red faced, his neat school tie at an odd angle.
“Is that what you think?” he growls, “Oh poor Ryouta, he’s been dumped and now he’s going to off himself!”
“What… no!” I stammer, but he speaks over me.
“I don’t need her, and I don’t need you, I will be fine by myself.”
But she loves you!
“Just go away!” Before I can reply he slams the door in my face, the bang echoes all along the corridor. Just great.
This time last year everything seemed to be going our way, now it seems everything is starting to fall apart around me, and I have no idea how or if I can put the pieces back together again. Is this Karma?
I’ve never really believed that there was anything More
, like a spirit watching over us. But, if I were such an entity and I wished to punish me, this is how I would do it. Hurt the people I care about, take away the one I love and force me to see the details of my crime whenever I close my eyes.
With my hand starting to burn I head back to my room, strolling under the same star-filled sky I tried so hard to put into words. Is something up there out to get me?
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