Author note: So here's the thing... Yes, I said I'd be taking a break from the Mythology for a bit but when Swampie approached me a little while ago with an idea about a follow-up to a certain plot-thread from Cordially Invited, I gave my blessing. Unfortunately, he recently took on another job (which sounds right up this forums alley) so he stalled on the project. Since I'd already had major input into the story, I offered to take what he'd already written and run with it. This won't be replacing Flutter or putting it on hiatus but I think what Swamp wrote (with a little help from moi) deserves to be put out there so please enjoy this follow-on from both Shizune in the Snow and Cordially Invited, a collaborative work from myself and Swamp!
Snowblind Part I
My brain flickers to life and the world falls into place around me. My eyes open and I find that I'm in my room. It must be morning since the light is streaming through the half closed blinds opposite the bed. I roll over slightly to check the clock and find my head feeling very light. After a second or two of disorientation, I manage to read the time — 10:48 AM.
My phone, wallet, keys and the rest of my miscellaneous pocket items are on my bedside table alongside the small container that holds my medication. I heave my heavy body from the bed and throw on a shirt, pyjama bottoms and dressing gown; the same outfit that's been my uniform since I quit.
I flip open the lid on the white box and stow away the smaller container of pills in my pocket before making my way downstairs. The rattling in my pocket each morning has become quieter as time has gone by. Compared to when I first got to Yamaku, the four or five pills I have to take seem paltry to the almost two dozen I used to have to take.
The scent of bacon fills my nose as I reach the last step. She always did prefer early mornings; even if she had no reason to get up.
"Morning!" I call as I make my way into the small kitchen area.
"Morning, Hisao." Her whispering voice echoes my own sentiments as I swing the fridge door open, sleepily grabbing at the half-empty carton of orange juice. "Did you sleep well?"
"Well enough, thanks. How about you?" I peer over my shoulder and she simply offers a tired smile. I smile, albeit a little exasperatedly, while the thought of the woman I love working herself half to death on her day off plays out in my mind.
"You should have woken me, I would have helped cook." I offer idly as I lean against the fridge, sipping at the orange juice I managed to grab.
"While I appreciate the sentiment
, I do not believe your particular… de-li-ca-cies
would help this tiredness." Her voice is still weak on some words, but the progress she's made has been incredible. Still doesn't get her out of saying my Michelin star cooking is inedible. I slip my arms around her waist and rest my chin on her shoulder.
"And you think this pile of grease will help?" I whisper and Shizune chuckles to herself, nuzzling against the side of my head before gesturing that she needs to move.
She serves up the intoxicating fried breakfast before making her way out towards the small lounge area, myself following her dutifully. The television flicks on and before I know it we're sharing breakfast over the local news.
Scrambled eggs and bacon. It's not exactly the 'Full English Breakfast', like the ones we shared with Lilly, but still one of the most western meals we eat. And possibly the most delicious. And fatty.
There's no way this can be good for my heart but I wolf down my girlfriend's morning offering happily.
The shared plate is soon placed upon the coffee table and we turn to sit sideways; facing each other. One of the many morning routines we've found ourselves in is practicing words and phrases. Even tired and hungover, her drive for perfection demands she try to get through a few new words at least. I pick up the dictionary we keep on the coffee table, along with an assortment of other light reading, a shuffle the pages until settling on a random page.
"Ready?" I ask with a cocked brow and Shizune adjusts her glasses in that cocky way that I find oddly endearing.
"Yes." She affirms and I scan the two pages in front of me and can't help but smirk at the perfect word for her to try next.
"Okay, try 'meticulous
'. Meh-tick-you-luss." I offer and she stares at me seriously.
"Mmmeh. Tick. You. L-luss
." She sounds the phonetics well enough but that will be never be good enough for her. "Mehtick. Youluss."
"Getting closer, hon. You can do it." I encourage and she nods, drawing a deep breath.
." She frowns. "Medicoo-loss. MEDICHULOTH! Fuck
!" She curses and I smile sympathetically at the frustrated little bundle of fury.
"I can pick another if this is too har—" I tease, my finger slowly turning the page before a dainty hand slams into the middle of the book.
"No. One more time." She demands and I smirk. It's not the first time she's said that to me. She closes her eyes and sounds off once more, each phonetic word uttered as if out of spite. "Meh-Tick-You-Luss. Meh-Tick-You-Luss. Mehtick. Youluss. Mehtick. Youluss.
" She takes a deep lungful of air and tries once more for the goal.
." She utters and her eyes bolt open to meet mine. Her mouth goes wide with glee and she does it again. "Meticulous! I did it!" She beams, launching forward and wrapping her arms around me.
While not on the list of words she'd noted having trouble with over the course of the wedding, it's a perfect word for her and I kiss her cheek as a reward. We start on the words she actually wanted to try but her fatigue, and her ironic frustration with the word 'determination', makes her increasingly restless and we agree to work on it some more tonight.
Shizune, after planting a stress-relieving kiss on my lips, makes some coffee and trots toward the room she's using as her office. Once she's out of sight, I begin my usual daily routine; Lounging around and watching TV until Shizune's work is done. It's been around a year since I declared myself on sabbatical and I'm just about reaching the point where I think I may be fully unwound. Perhaps the wedding helped with that… The euphoric wave of good vibes proved infectious amongst most of our motley group. I know I certainly feel less burdened by thoughts of material costs, stress tests and third-party funding.
If this were a book, I think this is where I'd explain how my prosthetic designs always ended up being too expensive to produce, but I'm not one for monologuing. I cast my gaze down to the first light novel volume that Hanako had written, the spine well creased from multiple reads.
Reading something written by a friend is kind of a surreal experience since you know what went into the book and how the characters were formed. It's almost like a window into somebody's brain if it's well written, which Hanako's sci-fi schlock certainly is. By my standards, anyway. I may be a tiny bit biased.
My phone buzzes aggressively, the juddering device inching around in a sloppy circle on the coffee table. After a stretch to retrieve it and a cursory glance at the contact, I flip it open and answer.
"Heeeey, Kenji! How's it going?" The bachelor party plays back in my head, and I recall Kenji heading off with Rika, Yuki, Mayumi and Nori for an 'after party', only to reappear near the end of the wedding reception to offer a gift and pleasantries. He didn't stick around for long and I've been kinda worried that he had another… Incident.
"I, uh, yeah, I'm alright… How about you?" His tone is weak, a far call from the usual ball of energy that we call Kenji.
"I'm doing good, thanks. What's up?"
"It's a, uh… Pretty long story. Can I come over in a little bit?" My eyebrows raise, Kenji has never asked to come over. He always just arrived and barged in. Like an unwanted in-law.
"Sure man, you wanna grab a pizza or something on the way then?" I'm really not hungry after that grease-filled breakfast but I've found that Kenji is more talkative when there is food on the table; even if he has a habit of talking with his mouth full.
"Sure, sure. I'll see you soon then." He hangs up almost instantly and the only sound in the room is the cheesy 80's movie playing on the television.
It's a little past 1:00pm when I knock on Hisao's door with my free hand; the other holding the pizza Hisao and I usually order when we hang out. My head hurts like hell but that's not my biggest concern right now. A couple moments later, the door drifts open as if it were some kind of horror flick.
"Is Shizune here?" My collar feels like it's trying to suffocate me as I speak.
here, Kenji. She's in her office though, the coast is clear." He chuckles as he opens the door and gestures for me to come inside. I'm sure he's confused; usually I just barge in, but today I need a solid so I'm on my best behaviour.
"You want anything to drink?" Hisao offers as I seat myself in his lounge and I accept with a nod of my head. He returns shortly after with two glasses of iced tea, straws and all. "What's up then?" He questions as both pull a slice of pizza from the box and take simultaneous bites.
"You remember those girls from Akio's bachelor party?" He nods in response as he chews. "They want me to go hang out with them tomorrow…" My face drops as his grins.
"Good on you, Kenji!" He laughs, though I don't find the situation particularly funny.
"Y-yeah, thanks. I wanted to know if you'd... come along?" The question of the day.
"Me? What about Shizune?" He continues not to understand. Damn it.
"You don't have to date
any of them, just... like..." My brain seizes up as I speak, and Hisao interrupts with a wave of his hand.
"You just want some back-up, right? No problem, I can make some time to be your wingman." He offers a smile, though it was his words that put my at ease more than his smile.
"Promise? Thanks a bunch, man." My body releases from it's tense state and I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. He offers a hearty chuckle and I stand from my seat. "I'll text you later on, okay?"
"What about the pizza?" He waves the slice in his hand to illustrate the point. Pizza would be good, but I need to go and get sorted out. I may have reinforcements for tomorrow but I still need a plan of attack!
"It's all yours!" I offer a little salute as I step to the door and open it up.
"Well, whatever. Take care." He once again waves the pizza, this time as a goodbye. Offering a similar wave, but without the pizza slice, I step outside and shut the door behind me. Phew.
Thank you, Hisao.
"Hey guys!" Yuki calls out as she approaches, causing Kenji to jump slightly before straightening his back and messing with the end of his scarf nervously. Yuki and Noriko walk in tandem with Rika just behind them, all chatting happily between themselves.
"Afternoon." I call out with a wave. Shooting a glance at Kenji, I can see he's far from comfortable. That's a given; these are clearly dangerous women we're talking about here. After giving him a hearty pat on the pack, I begin to make my way towards the group, and shortly after Kenji follows behind me silently. "How are you guys?"
[Great! It's good to see you again.] Nori signs, her movements are much faster than when we spoke at the bachelor party. We begin to walk towards Midnight, the jazz club we went to before the wedding. Our 'plan of attack', as much of a plan as it is, is to play pool until Kenji's feeling a little less tense.
Nori and Yuki walk either side of me while Kenji and Rika quietly exchange greetings behind us. Poor guy is a raw bundle of nerves… Maybe I should have liquored him up beforehand, just to loosen him up. Rika doesn't seem to be fairing to well either, looking just as nervous as Kenji. She idly twirls one of the longer bangs that frame her face like a certain other person I know used to.
"Where's Mayumi?" I question, attempting to jump start the conversion.
"God, you should have seen her, Hisao! It was rough
!" Yuki chuckles while Nori follows up. [Rika held her hair back while Yuki and I tried to find her hand. Somewhere between the club and the van, she managed to lose it. Her dad was piiiiissed
!] She silently laughs as she elongates the last word, a characteristic I've kind of missed ever since Shizune discovered her voice and her laugh. I've seen nervous hair twirling, silent laughing, what's next? If I hear a Wa-Ha-Ha, I think I may join Kenji on the feminist conspiracy bandwagon.
No, I won't. That would be stupid
"Reminds me of the time Shizune lost her hearing aid. That… That was a fun
afternoon." I offer with a sarcastic chuckle, my brain spewing forth a random topic so that the silence doesn't grow any longer.
"Shizune?" Yuki tilts her head curiously, as if trying to place the name.
"My girlfriend." Her thinking ceases and she frowns slightly.
[Maybe next time, Yuki.] Nori signs before remembering that I know sign as well and they both turn scarlet. Yuki far more than Nori. I'm kinda thankful Shizune isn't here right now. She would have my head for what I'm about to say next.
[I'm flattered.] I move to sign in an attempt to keep this slightly awkward atmosphere away from Kenji and Rika. They're already having at tough time as it is, second hand embarrassment might not be the greatest for them right now.
[I can set you up with some of my university buddies though! They're making boatloads doing neuro-sciences.] I offer wryly to Yuki, who looks to Noriko before laughing along with me.
"Then what are you
up to that isn't making you rich?" Yuki's embarrassment fades away as the topic is quickly changed.
"All kinds of stuff but recently I've been working on prosthetics and the like. Remember the leggings I made for Akio?"
[Oh yeah, the magnet foam stuff, right? You never explained those!] Noriko's hands speed up as she grins, most likely remembering how drunk I was during the bachelor party. I think I said something about magnets and science in my drunken stupor but that was it. My sober brain kicks into science mode as I begin thinking about how I'd explain how the cellulose fibre gel is freeze dried, then dipped into a solution of iron and cobalt ions to them before realizing that I'd be incredibly boring.
"I've worked on a lot of stuff that, unfortunately, turned out too expensive to be viable right now. I also worked on a hearing aid for sensori-neural deafness too." I blush, raising a hand to the back of my head as I always do when I'm feeling sheepish.
"Mhmm, just as I thought; you're one smart cookie!" Yuki quips, Nori nods in agreement before they begin chuckling. I take a moment to glance back and see how Kenji's holding up.
The air behind us seems frozen, you'd think that time had stopped moving if they weren't following behind us. Kenji is staring off into the distance, occasionally flicking his eyes back onto Rika to confirm her position while she does much the same, taking fleeting glances at Kenji. Come on, Kenji… You can do this, sir! This moment makes me want to crack telepathy just so I can get Kenji to loosen up. Then again, hearing voices in his head probably wouldn't help Kenji any…
"You must be pretty hot wearing a scarf in weather like this, huh?" Rika's voice rings out, and Kenji visibly flinches. Hold it together.
"Y-yeah, I mean, I wear it a lot... so, not really." What was that, Kenji? Silence once again falls over them as they each chuckle nervously. If this works out then Kenji might be able to become a functioning member of society. Please god, give him confidence.
"You weren't wearing it on your boy's night out." She chuckles again, possibly nervously, I can't tell. Kenji heaves a breath before responding, building up as much confidence as he can.
"Well, you know, I h-had to look somewhat presentable." Kenji attempts to smile in her direction, but loses confidence part way through. The sentence wasn't a failure though, perhaps he's making progress. Still, Rika appreciates the gesture as she returns her own smile.
"Well I think you're looking pretty sharp today…" She blushes coyly and I can't help but smile as I turn my attention back to Noriko and Yuki. By the time either of them are ready to speak again, we reach Midnight, the jazz bar where we went for Akio's bachelor party. Kenji makes his way over to the pool table as the girls wander towards the bar. Guess I should see how he's feeling while I've got the chance.
"How you holding up, buddy?" I ask as I grab the cue from the wall just behind Kenji.
"Yeah. Fine. Pretty g-great so far, y'know." His response is rushed and shaky as he collects the pool balls from the small slot near the bottom of the table.
"That's a no
then." I joke as Kenji finishes arranging the balls and grabs his own cue. He doesn't respond, simply keeping his eyes locked on the table. He was pretty open on the bachelor party — but we were pretty drunk — and I don't want that to become the only way he knows to be natural around people. He breaks to begin the game, his face as impassive as I've ever seen him be.
"Are you gonna be okay?" I follow up as he attempts to pot a striped ball and misses, instead bouncing it off the side of the table. He takes yet another deep breath and releases it as a sigh before his face seems to come back to life.
"Yeah, bro, nobody's gonna get the jump on me." He grins with a thumbs up and I resist the urge to slap him in the face and let him know that nobody wants to attack him. Aside from me, maybe. Perhaps he's just responding to an unfamiliar situation the way that always worked before, to assume that feminist ninjas are out to get him.
"I hope you're referring to the game." I respond, a hint of poison dripping into my voice as I lean down to take my own shot. Kenji either doesn't hear or doesn't acknowledge.
"I hope you're referring to the game." He sighs as he bends down towards the table, cue in hand.
"Of course man." I shudder, he knows my coping mechanisms. Perhaps that's a good thing… If I'm gonna break these habits like he wants me to then I'll need somebody around like that. He further breaks the haphazard triangle of balls with a clatter, then takes his second shot, potting a striped ball with ease.
"So did you learn how to play after the bachelor party?" He grins. Asshole.
"Yeah! I even read a book." I grin back two-fold, causing him to chuckle.
"Doesn't mean you're gonna be any good though." He jibes as I take my shot... and miss spectacularly, only causing his laughter to jump a few decibels. As he takes his next shot, the girls return from the bar, drinks in hand. I take a deep breath, attempting to ward away all the nervousness in my system. Hisao told me I need to speak to them at least a few times over the night. May as well get started now.
"S-somebody take my next shot... I'll, uh, get some drinks for me and Hisao." I speak through gritted teeth towards the girls, attempting to stop my stuttering. Noriko jumps on the spot excitedly before rushing over and grabbing the cue from my hand. Fuck, all I did was get myself an out. I'm too damn good at that.
"I'll just have a beer, thanks." Hisao offers a thumbs up as I make my way over towards the bar. That wasn't hard at all... so why do I feel like I jogged around the block? I take my glasses from my face and wipe them clean with my scarf. I kind of miss my old glasses, they stopped people from speaking to me.
With two uncapped bottles in hand, I make my way back over to the table and hand Hisao his beer. It seems Noriko has taken my spot on the table for good, so I make my way over to the nearby seats where Yuki and Rika have sat themselves. I hesitate for a second before I feel Hisao's gaze burning a hole in the back of my head. Yeah I get it, I'll go sit down with them.
"Heeeey, Ken!" Yuki smiles as I sit down opposite them, while Rika just offers a wave. I hope the trip here didn't make things too awkward for her. I spent the whole time just building up the courage to speak.
"Hey guys." I return after a sip at my beer. It was short and sweet, but I'm sure it counts for my social minimum Hisao has demanded of me. They continue speaking as I tune out, instead paying attention to the music playing from the small speakers dotted around the club.
"...What do you think, Ken; Whiskey or Vodka?"
"Whiskey." I return without hesitation, even without knowing what I'm really being asked. "It's a man's
"So you only drink it to be manly?" Rika giggles.
"Well, no, just... yeah, I think you may be right there." I chuckle in return while my whole body screams. Why did that make me laugh!? She just dissed me big time and I took it on the nose! "What are you drinking then?" I return, a competitive streak rising inside me.
"Whiskey. On the rocks." She grins mischievously, holding her glass up at face level, causing me to meet eyes with her through the amber liquid in the glass.