Part Three: A Touch of White
I never thought that there was another three word phrase more powerful than "I love you".
It happens to be "I am engaged".
Two years later, Hanako and I are engaged and the wedding date is less than a week away. Poor Hanako spends all day on the phone making sure catering services will be there on time, that the food won't be too cheap, that the florists have our arrangements ready, that everyone has RSVP'd...
The list of tasks go on and on. Half of them I’ve helped her with, but the recent few months I'd been participating in less and less of them.
Well, shortly after having graduated about six months ago, I finally found a job using my degree. I looked at the white labcoat hanging on our coatrack. I was a real, certified scientist working for a pharmaceutical company. Making medicine and hoping to save lives. Mutou would be proud. Actually, he was bound to give me a big pat on the back, he had already called ahead to let us know he'd be attending our wedding.
As was most of our old friends and classmates. Hanako was going to the ends of the earth ensuring that anyone we knew slightly from highschool was attending. Iwanako was also going to be attending, I had given her a table with five other seats to bring any of our old friends with in case they wanted to attend.
Although I wanted to take time off from work to help, the money I had saved and had been earning was necessary to pay for our expensive wedding. Especially seeing as my fiance was now taking an extended vacation from her work as a licensed social worker to make sure all the plans were finalized.
Hanako slammed the phone down onto the receiver and I smiled at her a little. "What's the matter?" She made a frustrated face and turned away from me without saying anything.
"Don't be like that. It'll make me sad." I wrapped my arms around her from behind and kissed her on the top of the head. A heavy sigh from my wife to be. "Caterers said they'll be late getting to the chapel." I rest my chin on her head.
"What about the band and the other stuff? I assume nothing's changed with the open bar?" She shook her head. "Everything else is fine so far, just the food is going to be late and everyone's going to be hungry in the meantime." I rolled my chin left and right across the top of her head. "Actually, didn’t you mention something about the band being former Yamaku students?" Hanako nodded enthusiastically.
“Yeah! I was asking some people where I could find a good band and one of my friends directed me to a sort of directory.” She paused and buried her face in my chest, tightening her grip around me. Hanako was stressed and she made a habit of using me as a pillow to squeeze whenever she needed.
“They asked me what highschool I was from and they found that there was actually a band from our school who was registered in their directory.” I arched an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?” Hanako smiled. “They’re a jazz band or something. I’ve only listened to a little jazz but I contacted them and the lady running it sent samples. I really like the music, actually.”
“But the god damn caterers...” She grumbled into my shirt.
"Oh, don’t worry about it, everyone will be too drunk and enjoying the music to care.”
"I'd rather not everyone at our wedding be completely drunk, you know." I laughed a little. "I know, I know. Are you a little more calm now, by the way? I have something I need to tell you." Hanako didn't seem to like that phrasing. "What do you mean, you have something to tell me? This better not be bad Hisao, or I swear I'll-" I kissed her on the lips unexpectedly and she blushed.
"D-don't do that! I'm trying to be mad, H-Hisao!" While she tried to be angry at me, I pondered how to say what I needed to tell her. Ah, whatever. Straightforward approach has always been best.
"Know how Kenji's been kind of out of touch with me for the last year and a half or so?" Hanako nodded, looking even more worried. "Well, it looks like he had been getting a business degree and opened his own business. Since he's been so busy, he hasn't gotten in contact with us for a while-" Hanako's eyes told me she wanted me to get to the point.
I sighed. "Kenji's throwing me a bachelor party and told me I have no choice but to go." I originally didn't want a bachelor party. One, it'd worry poor Hanako out of her head what I was doing the night before our wedding and two, Hanako informed me that her bachelorette party was going to just be her, some old and new friends for dinner here at the apartment.
We were under a kind of unspoken agreement we both weren't going to do anything reckless.
She looked horrified. "Why don't you tell him you absolutely can't go?" I frowned at that concept. "I'd rather not give him reason to chloroform me one morning while I'm jogging and wake up in the trunk of his car, being driven to some place where the feminists can't reach us." Hanako bit her thumb a little. "Yeah, that’s not good either. If we at least agree with him, we'll know what he's doing... for the most part."
She sounded really dismissive at 'for the most part'. "Please, don't do anything bad. The girls at my company tell me all sorts of h-horrible things about the terrible things their husbands or ex-husbands did during their bachelor party that they don't tell them about until years later." I could make the promise I wouldn't do anything, but I couldn't promise Kenji wasn't going to make those bad things accessible.
"No s-s-strippers." She demanded, having a hard time getting the word out because of the images it put in her mind. "I can't make any promises about things like that, sweetheart. I can promise though that nothing bad will happen and I'll still marry you the next day." A weak smile from her, but a smile nonetheless.
"And if it makes you feel any better, I invited Misha to come to my bachelor party." Hanako looked more than a little confused by this statement. "I thought bachelor parties were meant for 'the guys'." I nodded. “Apparently she's become one of the guys. When I called her up a little while ago, she told me that she came out. She's playing for my team." I couldn't help but laugh at my own terminology.
"She's apparently been in love with Shizune for a really long time but nothing ever developed and she finally moved on. They're still friends, but she's open about herself now."
Hanako nodded slowly. "Is it strange that I didn't see that coming?" I shook my head. "I didn't either, so no worries. But she'll make sure to tell you all about the night and whether I behaved." All I could imagine though was her getting drunk and probably doing shots off of a stripper's half naked body while 'Wahaha~ing' at the top of her lungs, not being my chaperone.
"I'm gonna watch a movie, do you have enough time before you leave for work?" Hanako asked, a little pleadingly. I glanced to the clock on the wall and then to the one on my wrist.
"Well, I don't..." I began, but those begging eyes of hers put a smile on my face. I was sitting at the desk behind the couch, so she was just barely peeking over the back of the couch with her deep violet eyes. "But I'd love to watch with you for as long as possible."
"Good, I want to relax. I've been so stressed lately." As I sat down next to her, she cozied up on my lap, without asking me. I plopped a pillow on her face. "Bet you wish you didn't say yes to me, huh?" She lifted the pillow and forced it into my face.
"Don't be stupid. You had a 'yes' the minute the towel fell off." I flushed. She had to keep reminding me of that, didn't she?
"It's your fault that you had to go and find the ring." She snuggled up, taking the pillow from my face and putting it under her head. As much as I wanted to watch the movie, I wasn't really interested in it. For the next hour, I just wanted to play with Hanako's hair and maybe doze off, catch a few extra winks.
When had I nodded off?
"Such an old man, always falling asleep." Hanako told me with a giggle. "You've got to get ready for work." I sat up with a bit of a start but I felt her hand on my chest. Whenever she did that simple motion, it always calmed me. It brought me back to the day I had shown her my scar and how the constant fear and anxiety that was present on her face melted away.
"Don't worry, you'll have enough time to get ready and drive there." That was a bit of a relief. I thought I had overslept and Hanako would've been too into the movie to let me know. As she was removing her hand from my chest, I placed my hand to it, keeping it gently placed there.
"You alright?" She must've thought I had been worried about the state of my heart lately. I've had a couple flutters, but nothing that wasn't unusual. I've gone to my doctors regularly, my excercise has been the same as ever although I've been resisting pushing my limits for the sake of my safety. I'd rather not die before my wedding day, after all.
"I’m wonderful. Just thinking about when I first showed you my scar." She smiled knowingly. Hanako removed her hand and instead placed her head's side to my heart. "You made me so happy that night, you know." I held her tightly. "You think then you'd believe that about five years later we'd be getting married?"
She looked up from my chest at me with eyes that made my heart ache. In a good way.
"Can I be honest?" I grinned at her. "Uh oh. Secrets?" I knew there wasn't anything to really be afraid of, but I feigned worry. "I-it's not a big deal!" I nodded, waiting.
"I thought you would've gotten bored of me by now. Or found someone you liked better..."
I was actually a little surprised by this.
"I kept telling myself that eventually you'd just get tired or realize I was boring or ugly, or something... but you never did. And I couldn't help but wonder what you've seen in me." I opened my mouth to tell her off, but she clasped her hand over my face roughly.
"I'm not done yet." She removed her hand and continued. "After a while, I started seeing what you saw. And I started believing it t-too. I found confidence, a career, friends. Even though I still think I'm boring and play too many video games and spend too much time on the computer, you still love me for it." I kissed her on the top of her head and got up.
"Of course I do, so don’t you ever dare change or dislike who you are." For a moment, all we could do is smile and enjoy one another's gaze. Sadly, I had to go. "I should get going though, as much as I'm enjoying our tender moment." Hanako stuck out her tongue and I threw on my collared shirt, wrapping a tie around my collar.
Hanako watched me intently. "Want me to help out?" I shook my head at my fiance. I honestly was never good with ties, despite our uniform having a tie. It was a well-kept secret that I wore a clip-on.
But I was learning. She continued watching as I successfully donned my tie, without even having to use a mirror. She giggled. "You're improving." I always wondered why she was so good at tying ties, but she apparently had an unusual taste for older fashion and ties and bowties. I couldn't complain, I loved her fashion. She was a very classy gal, for someone who was getting married to a nerd like me.
I grabbed the keys off of the coffee table after tucking my shirt into my dark blue slacks. "I'll see you later tonight, if only for a little while before Kenji kidnaps me." I kissed her on the lips as my hands grasped blindly for my keys somewhere on the table. I was honestly more interested in the fact her hands were wandering around to the back of my head and keeping me from pulling away.
"I need to gooooo." I whispered into her lips as she reluctantly let go of me. "Okay..." A slight frown. "When you get back later, the girls will probably be over." I nodded. "Who again? Just so I have an idea when I walk in." She thought a little.
"Well, Lilly obviously. Apparently she made up with Shizune and they've been trying to get along, so Shizune will be coming. Akira will be too. Some people from my work will be showing up, I think I mentioned that. Rin managed to call me and said she'd bring a painting as a wedding gift. I tried to invite her and Emi to the get-together but she said something weird and declined." I shrugged. "That's fine, I suppose. I'd at least like to thank Emi for keeping me in shape, though."
I grabbed my labcoat and draped it over my arm, heading towards the door. "Well, I'll see you later. There's science to be done." As I closed the door behind me, I could hear her teasing me.
I paused, turning to open the door behind me and throw a rebuttal at her.
"Says the girl who spends all night arguing with people on forums."
"Hey! I can't rest well if I know people are being stupid on the internet and I didn't tell them so." I grinned at her. "Yeah yeah, see you later." She blew a kiss at me from the couch as I closed the door and locked it behind me.
I doubted I'd ever get tired of this kind of life.
After a long day of science, chemicals and still being treated like a greenhorn at my workplace, I returned home. For a second I hesitated to open the door. My apartment, my safe haven, was filled with women.
And they were all talking.
What a horrifying concept.
As I was considering potentially hitting a bar or something and turning away from the apartment, the door swung open. "Sweetheart!"
Oh boy. I knew that tone. Hanako had been drinking.
"Hey you." I said, pulling her head close to my chest. Looking over it, I saw at least six other people in the living room. Akira, Lilly, Shizune, Rin for some reason and two women I hadn't met before.
Akira was first to stand. "C'mon in Hisao, finally someone who can hold their alcohol!" She beamed cheerfully, shaking a bottle at me. "Shouldn't I not be participating in the bachorlette's party?" I asked with a smile as I walked in, Hanako still attached to me at the chest. She was like a cat and I was the catnip. She kept rubbing her face against me, humming happily.
"It's not a bachorlette party though, silly! It's just a bunch of my friends having fun!" It was around seven or eight, they must've been already had dinner. And was that bottle bourbon? Jeez, no wonder Hanako was halfway out the door. Honestly, I probably had a better liquor tolerance thanks in part to my friendship with Kenji, but I didn't think I ought to drink too much.
"I might have to pass on the drink though, I shouldn't get pre-emptively wasted, you know. I honestly am afraid to drink with Kenji. Or the people who I invited to go with me to hopefully keep me in check." I chuckled as I walked in, finally prying Hanako off of me with a kiss.
I walked into my living room, the only real sitting place being my desk. I placed my labcoat onto the coatrack and sat down, looking at all the women. I wondered why Rin was here, but knowing her, she probably changed her mind and took a train or something.
Could she even drive? I tried imagining the armless painter driving with her chin or some absurd apparatus. That probably wasn't the case, but it was still an interesting thought.
When I sat down, I realized that all the women were staring at me.
I took in an apprehensive breath.
"She told you how I proposed, huh?"
A sudden wave of laughter washed over me as I let it soak in. Yeah, yeah. Go ahead.
Just as I was about to rebuke their laughter, the doorbell buzzer went off. Not just once. A bunch of intermittent repetitions.
I walked to the door, opening it a little. It was Kenji. Barely from last I saw him. His shoulders seemed a bit wider and his glasses seemed smaller. Much smaller. Less thick, too. "Hey buddy." Then he peered around me and saw all the women in my apartment. A look of horror crossed his face.
"HOLY SHIT, GET OUT OF THERE!" Kenji shouted. He grabbed me and pulled me out of the door, then rolled what looked like a canister into the apartment's hallway. He nearly threw me aside from the door, holding what looked like a... a putty knife? He held it as if it were a pistol and he were an agent of some kind. The entire time, hollering at the top of his lungs like he was Braveheart and was charging into battle.
"Why are you shouting? And what did you just throw into my apartment, Kenji? I wasn’t captured or anything, either. It's Hanako's anti-feminist spy group. I told you you're not the only one infiltrating their regime." I said, hoping the canister wasn't anything damaging. I didn't want to lose my security deposit. He stopped shouting, narrowing his eyes in contemplation as he chose his next words.
"It's a manly shout of courage. It'll cause enemies under level ten to flee in fear. And it was a paint can. They'll think it's a concussive grenade or a smoke bomb so it'll give us time to esca- Wait, you said they were our soldiers? Oh.” He lowered the putty knife. “Sorry then. Can't be too careful. The other day, some chick at my bar-"
"Wait, your bar? You own a bar?"
He nodded proudly. "The manliest skidmark on this side of the city." I nodded slowly. "Is that what you did with your business degree? Open up a run-down bar?" Kenji nodded enthusiastically.
"Hell yeah! Now go get your coat sugartits, we're getting hammered. Bar's open only to us tonight. And the strippers. Man, do I have some strippers." I grabbed my coat from inside, gave Hanako a kiss and reassured her I wasn't going to do anything I'd regret in the morning. On the way out, I picked up the paintcan.
I tossed it to Kenji the minute I opened the door. Surprisingly, he caught it.
"Your eyes are better. Painting your bar earlier?" He nodded, probably to both questions. "Yeah, that lazer eye surgery shit works wonders man. I can see a little better now, but normal sight doesn't help you see through the veil of feminism, man."
"Tell me about it."
When we arrived at the bar, I had to admit, it didn't look bad at all. He was clearly going for a western looking city bar, which didn't surprise me too much. He always used to rag on how our country's liquor wasn't nearly strong enough.
Looking around, I saw that a handful of the people I had invited were already here. One of my good friends from university, Yuji, and Misha were both sitting at the bar. My coworker, an American named Jack was also sitting at the bar also.
And wait... what was Miki doing behind the bar?
“Miki?” I asked, confused. She raised her stump as if in greeting. “Yo! So you’re getting married, huh? Not bad, didn’t think anyone would stick to ya for that long. It’s Hanako, right?” I nodded and then looked towards Kenji, waiting for an answer. I thought this was a bachelor party. Was she a lesbian too, now?
“She’s uh... one of my bartender-waitress bitches. And we’re dating.”
“Wait, is she the girl you’ve been dating?” Kenji shook his head. “Fuck no, the last girl couldn’t handle my visionary ways. And how hard I wrecked her in bed." He cleared his throat after receiving a questioning stare from our tan friend.
"Yeah. Miki showed up at my bar looking for some eats and a job so I decided to give her a shot.” He adjusted his glasses as he removed his dark coat and threw it at one of the many scuffed and empty tables.
“Never thought someone with only one hand could make drinks as fast as she does. It’s scary, man. I can only attribute it to how much of a bro she is.” I looked to Miki. She shrugged with a smile, not saying anything. “Don’t you have to be a guy to be a bro?” I wasn’t sure but Kenji’s scowl told me otherwise.
“What’re you, some kinda ignorant sexist? Anyone can be a bro. Any bro knows that. Have you renewed your bro license, Hisao?” He started peering angrily at me. “Well, I believe that’s what I’m here for, aren’t I?”
Kenji slowly backed away from me and towards the bar. “Good answer, Nakai.” I sat at the bar with the other three. “Wahaha! Hicchan, how have you been?” A heavy clap on my back. “I’m alive, still kicking. How about you? How’s the signing business going?” Another ecstatic burst of laughter from Misha. Her hair was getting longer again and the sides of her hair were already forming small drills. Guess she missed them.
Jack, my coworker, looked to Kenji and Miki. “So, what... uh... food do you have?” His Japanese was a work in progress, but he was a pretty cool guy. A good sport and funny. Incredibly tall and quiet at first, which I think daunted most of the people at my workplace. That paired with his overwhelming serious expression and foreign appearance made him look out of place.
“Pizza, chicken wings and liquor.” Miki answered quickly.
Jack’s eyebrow raised slowly. “Liquor is food?” He asked slowly, tentatively. Kenji nodded. “Damn right. It’s one of the most important food groups. Whiskey, pizza, chicken wings, peanuts and steak.” Jack seemed confused at first, but just wrote it off. “Hisao, you have strange friends.” He told me in English. I had to learn it at the university due to how much medicine is written in English. “I know. You get used to them.” I responded in the same language, confusing the others.
“HEY, hey. No secret English shit.” Kenji declared.
“How’s the running been, Hisao?” Yuji interjected. I doubt he could handle Kenji’s nonsense either. Misha just kept laughing at all of it. “Been good. Had a few flutters but I’ve been able to keep it under control. No real bad accidents.” Jack looked at me confused. “What do you mean?”
I smiled at him, pointing to my chest. “Arrhythmia. Nearly died in highschool, have been dragging myself through the mud ever since.” Jack looked intensely introspective for a moment and then reached into the labcoat he was still wearing. He probably arrived straight from work.
“For you, then.” He retrieved a flask from his coat and passed it towards me. “...You bring this with you to work?” He grinned a little. “Of course not.” A wink. I shook my head at him as I accepted the drink, taking a deep swig of it. After lowering it from my lips, my vision completely blurred for a second and I felt a burn unlike anything else I ever had. Things started moving around me.
I started coughing furiously. “What... what is this?” Jack beamed. “Moonshine! One-ninety proof. Made it myself.” I placed my palm to my forehead. “Holy fuck, my head’s already hurting.” I felt the thing snatched out of my hand and I looked over to see Kenji looking at it as if it were the Holy Grail.
“Can I?” He asked. Jack nodded. “Go for it.” He said in English. Almost everyone passed it around and then I heard the sound of a door opening and closing accompanied by the sound of footsteps. Huh?
Must be the moonshine having knocked at least half of my brain’s synapses out of order because I was looking at Mutou holding a glass of some golden liquid. He must’ve come out of the bathroom or something. “Mutou?” He waved at me. His hair was grayer than I remembered but he was still wearing that familiar brown coat and a black collared shirt and tie.
“Whatcha doing here?” He gave a tired smirk. Smiles still didn’t look right on him. “Experimenting. You think I’d let one of my favorite students have a bachelor party without me?” He sipped his drink and smirked at me. “Misha told me and said I should come along. And just call me Akio. You’ve known me long enough now.”
I laughed. “I guess I have. I just figured this wouldn’t be your kind of thing.” Mutou shrugged at me. “Nonsense. A scientist must try all things to formulate a proper observation.” I nodded. Same old Mutou. “So, what have you been up to? Hear about my job?”
“Time travelling, mostly. And yes, I’m pretty damn proud of you. I used to be a researcher, but then...” He looked to the glass of scotch. “Mr. Setou, I will require another glass of this.” Kenji laughed. “Same as the last? Double shot on the rocks?” Mutou looked at the glass.
“I believe I’ve researched that drink enough. How about some tequila? Salt the rim, if you would.” Kenji salutes him and complies with the order while Miki starts cooking up some food on the grill and oven that’s inset into the wall with vents above it.
“So, you said strippers.”
Kenji nods. “Yep!” Even though I have already a pretty good foundation of alcohol in me and everyone else is getting the same way, I can’t approve of strippers. I’ve only ever had eyes for Hanako. I know she’s drinking herself to sleep tonight so she doesn’t think as much about what may or may not be going on right now.
“I don’t really approve of strippers, you know.” Kenji shakes a beer at me. “Pfffshhhhhpft.” Was that noise even necessary?
“Think about it from Hana’s perspective. She’s always had such a hard time getting used to being around people. And I’m part of why she can now. She’s probably going through hell right now, considering the fact I might have some half naked woman on my lap, stealing me away.” The silence from everyone made them realize that it might’ve been a little careless to have strippers.
“Okay, fuckin’ party pooper. They’re not strippers, alright? I lied about that, wanted to get ya all excited. They’re just a bunch of dancers, they’re classy and stuff. I sometimes have them here anyways for bro night at the bar. Bring their own poles, are semi-clothed. No lapdances, no touching. Anyone who does gets thrown out. People love it, figured you’d get a kick out of it too.”
I sighed out of relief. One less thing to worry about.
“In that case, I don’t have to worry about getting smashed tonight.” And with that, Miki set out a line of shotglasses, deftly pouring into each of them without spilling a single drop. Mutou, Misha, Jack, Yuji myself, Kenji and Miki. We each got our shots and Kenji flicked on the television and the smell of cooked food hit my nostrils.
This was nice. Old and new friends, drinks, food and television. And later, adult entertainment that Hanako wouldn’t approve of.
Kenji lifted his shot of clear liquid that smelled and probably tasted strong enough to be nail polish. “To Hisao Nakai’s last day of freedom.”
And we all knocked back the shot, I heard laughter and smelled pizza coming out of the oven moments later.
The dancers arrived, bringing poles with them and everything, portable ones that could be set up. “These chicks, man. Not only are they not feminists, but they're damn hypnotizing. I mean, look at that shit. She's walking down a flight of stairs upside down. On a pole.” His amount of staring while chewing on a spicy chicken wing earned him a hard punch from Miki, which he ignored.
“How does that even work, man?” I shrugged, tipping back some kind of American beer. Coors? Corona? I couldn't really read it anymore. “I don't know, Kenji. But it is pretty damn impressive.”
“Look, that one's spinning and shit. That's pretty hot, huh?” I nod, but then laugh a lot louder than I probably should've when Miki slams a harder punch into his arm. This time he can't ignore it because it spills his beer. “Hey! C'mon, don't be like that. You know you're the only hot bitch I want on my pole, sprinkle-cheeks.” This time a headlock.
“Sprinkle-cheeks? Wahahah!” Misha has already outdrank most of us and was swaying quite a bit more than she should be. “She's... got freckles on her ass...” Kenji informed us while Miki continued crushing his windpipe. “Ignore him.” She said, a grin of pure anger and the slightest bit of red in her expression.
Misha wound up resting her head on my shoulder. “Ugghhhh, my head's starting to hurt, Hicchan.” I pat her on the back, sipping my beer. Beer then liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, have no fear. Words of wisdom from my father, ones that I lived by when it came to drinking.
“You'll be alright. Miki, when yer done choking Kenji to death, can you get Misha a bottle of water?” She nodded, smiling. “I'll whip her up a sandwich, too. Something to soak up the booze.”
As she walked away, I looked over to Yuji, Mutou and Jack all laughing and joking around. Jack and Mutou hit it off fast, being fellow scientists and Yuji was just an easy person to get along with. When I looked over, I realized Misha was crying a little into my shoulder. “Whoa, whoa. What's the matter?” I asked in a hushed tone so that people wouldn't realize something was wrong.
“The same problem I've been having for years, Hicchan.” A hiccup when she goes to say her petname for me. Shizune, I imagined. “I still love her and I can't get over it, even though I've tried so hard.” I frowned. I felt myself sobering up quickly now that I had an old friend crying softly on my shoulder. “Sometimes people just... can't stop loving someone else. And you either gotta learn to love someone else too, or just be accepting of that fact that you can't love anyone else.”
“I just don't know what to do. I've tried everything I can think of to either get over it or make her love me.” I sighed a little while she clung to my arm. I couldn't seem to find any interest in the dancers, although they were winking at me, knowing I was the one getting married tomorrow.
“What would you do if you were in my position? If it was Hanako that couldn't love you?” I laughed a little at the concept. “I'd probably stick by her, do whatever I could if she wanted that help. It'd hurt, but I'd rather her be happy even if it had nothing to do with me.”
Misha wiped her eyes a little, taking my beer from me and drinking it.
“I think I'm going to try taking one of these dancers home.” I laughed, tossing a half-assed thumbs up at her. “More power to ya.” Kenji crawled back onto the bar, seemingly having regained consciousness. “Did one of the feminist hookers get me? Fuckin' hell, I knew I should've killed her and dumped the body in the reservoir.” He mumbled, causing me to look at him curiously. I doubted he was talking about Miki. Which made me afraid for what he'd been up to the last year or so.
I looked to my watch and then to the pizza in my right hand. It was like 11 pm. How much had I drank? Quite a bit, I think. Most everyone else was winding down and the dancers were starting to leave, one of which seemed pretty engaged in a conversation with Misha.
It has to be those drills. No one can resist the drills. I bet that dancer wants Misha to drill her.
Hah, get it? Drill.
Why am I even making these jokes in my head? I shake off the booze fugue a little and see that Mutou's walking towards me.
“So, you're taking the big leap, huh? Getting married.” He asks, that tired, weary looking expression still plastered to his face. This time, the look of alcohol stupor is there too.
He's got a bit of a thicker layer of stubble on his face than usual. “Marriage is tough Hisao.” He states. I wonder if this is supposed to be some sort of fatherly advice from a smart man who saw some kind of potential in me.
Then again, he had been right before about where my potential lay and helped me choose a good university. I sipped my beer. I should probably listen to whatever he had to say.
“I see a lot of myself in you. Except you're succeeding.”
He reached into his coat's breast pocket, fishing out a little orange bottle full of white pills. “I have cardiomyopathy. My heart's deteriorating all the time. I suffer from constant chest pain and the potential of sudden cardiac arrest. When things start getting bad, if I don't take a couple of these, I could die in a couple minutes. Heart steroids, constant experimental treatments, running my ass off at the break of dawn because I can't sleep at night for fear of not waking up...”
“This is why I look so damn beat all the time, Hisao. I am damn beat. I'm fighting an uphill battle, we all are. My wife left me because she can't handle the concept of me dropping dead suddenly. Hell, I still can't. Don't let your condition beat you, Hisao. Hear me?” He asks. For the first time since I have known Mutou, he looks like he's about to cry.
“You keep fighting it, you stay strong. Don't let it best you or you'll lose a lot. And... keep in touch, will you? It might sound weird, but I look at you like one of my kids. I look at a lot of my former students like children, to make up for the ones my wife took from me. The ones who don't visit or call anymore. You're my favorite kid, though. You remind me there's hope and that it's worth struggling for.”
He pulls me into an unexpected hug. I return it, feeling for him. We were alike, weren't we?
“How about this, Akio. When Hanako and I have a kid, you can be the godfather. But you better stay alive until then, alright?” Mutou laughs loudly, a big grin on his face that looks wildly uncharacteristic on that tired face of his. He breaks away from the hug, holding me by the shoulders, squeezing a little.
“Hell, I can do that. Us scientists need to stick together, you know?” I pat him on the shoulder and turn away from him, looking to Yuji and Jack who are still sitting at the bar, sipping their own respective drinks still.
“Pretty cool bachelor party. A little low-key, but you've always been a reserved guy. You've got some good friends, though. Odd, but good. All from Yamaku, right?” I nod. He and I used to talk a lot about Yamaku. He was a pretty damn open minded guy, always wanted to know what life was like on the other side of the fence. What it was like coping with something that held you back in life.
“Well, I gotta get home. Fuck, which way is the train?” He says, clutching his head a little while asking Kenji. “Uh, about five blocks thattaway. Watch out for them fucking feminists dude, they're worse than slashers or muggers. Once I had to clothesline some woman who approached me. She was definitely going to shank me, although she tried convincing the police that she was just asking for directions. Fuckin' feminist. The police believed me, or they wouldn't have let me go.”
Miki laughs. “Or it could be because you have a history of paranoid delusions and forget to take your medicine every now and then.” Kenji slammed his hands onto the bar. “DELUSIONS? Woman, this isn't delusion. It's war! Don't tell me that I'm not right, Miki.” She rolls her eyes. “Oh, shut up before I ram my stump into your ass.”
Kenji pauses. “But I like it when you do that.”
“Oh for the love of-” She shrugs and walks away from Kenji, extending her hand towards me. “Take it easy, Hisao.” I nod, gripping her hand. She then pulls me into a firm hug from over the bar. “People from Yamaku don't last forever, so I'm glad you're still kicking. Don't be a stranger, come to the bar every now and then. Free beer and food.” I nodded.
“Definitely. Take care of Kenji, he needs someone who's mostly sane.”
“I am sane damn it! The last sane man in an insane world!” He shouts from his resting place across the bar.
I laugh. “Yeah, yeah Kenji. We know.” I was pretty woozy already. This was something I didn't think about. Getting home. We had all been drinking. Well, except maybe Miki. She had a few shots, but looked like she was abstaining from the alcohol.
“Hey, who's bringing me back? Kenji drove me here and I didn't bring any train fare...” Miki laughed, grabbing a set of keys from the corkboard behind her on the wall. “Hey four eyes, I'm taking the groom home in the car.” Kenji nodded. “Make sure to hit someone on the way. I need something for the city to focus on instead of my parking violations.” Miki nods, throwing a coat on.
Everyone else files out of the bar. Most of them look like they took the train here in the first place, except for Jack and Mutou, who both took their cars. And actually... it looked like Misha was getting into the car of one of the dancers.
She winked at me, that trademark grin on her face. The dancers came in their own vehicles and changed in the bathroom and were now wearing regular clothes rather than their semi-revealing outfits. I shook my head at her and smiled. At least she's doing something to keep her mind off of Shizune.
Hah, get it? Doing?
Jeez, I really need to sober up...
Mutou and Jack waved to me, both seeming fully able to drive. “You guys call me in the morning so I know you didn't die on the way back home, alright?” They all nodded and Miki pointed to the green sedan that Kenji had pulled up to my apartment in.
She unlocked the door and sat down, adjusting the rearview a little with her wrist and groaning when she realized she couldn't use her wrist for shifting as well.
“This is why I fuckin' hate driving.” She said as she wrapped the inside of her elbow around the shifter and pulled it into reverse. With her other hand, she turned the wheel and spun it so she could do a two-point turn. Using her arm around the shifter again, she pulls into drive and starts following the road.
“Kenji told me the address, so no worries about directions. I know most everywhere like the back of my hand.” I laugh, because that's funny.
The back of her hand. Is it the hand she doesn't have anymore?
In response to my laughter, she hits the breaks and I slam into the dash in front of me. “Hey! Careful.” I'm still laughing though, although pointing to my chest. Miki suddenly understands and apologizes. “My bad, my bad. Don't wanna kill ya before your wedding.”
I laugh and she drives me back to my apartment, the roads nearly empty. Not many people drive in this area, I've noticed.
I shrug a little while slumping against the window.
“Maybe. I don't see anything to be nervous about other than all the people who'll be watching.”
“Not nervous about the fact you'll be stuck with someone for the rest of your life until some kind of messy, painful end?” It almost seemed like she was making Hanako or myself out to be some kind of axe murderer. Or that there'd be some kind of horrible divorce in our future.
“Not at all. If I wasn't sure about whether either of us would be willing to successfully spend our lives together, I'd have never proposed. I love Hana.” I closed my eyes. I was so tired. I couldn't wait to get home and crawl into bed with Hanako.
“Good. I used to try and stick up for her, keep people off her back. She has no idea though. Heard a couple people talkin' shit about her one day at school back in the day. I slapped them around until they cut it out. She's such a sweet kid, never done nothin' wrong to anyone. Isn't right to give someone like that a hard time because of some fuckin' burns.” I smiled.
“Glad to see Lilly and I weren't the only people who thought like that then. I appreciate it and if I ever tell Hanako, I'm sure she'd appreciate it a ton too.” We stopped at a red light but didn't blow through it despite the fact that there was no traffic at all out.
“So, have you thought about your future with her? Like... how long you have.” Miki sounded deathly serious and my expression faded from goofy to blank. I'd been thinking about this too. I've been trying to scrape as many extra years together as I could.
I've become a guiding light, a source of true happiness for Hanako. If... if I died a year or five after we got married, it may just kill her.
“I have. A lot. From what my doctors think and from my own research, I probably have about fifteen years left. But I've been lobbying for research on experimental heart medicines to prolong my life. As selfish as it is, I don't want to die yet." I pause, glancing out the window at the side of the street.
"I might have to get a pacemaker or a built-in defibrillator before I get too old for the surgeries just to add some more years. I doubt I can hold out as long as Hanako can, but I've got to try. I want to have a family. I want to live as long as possible.”
Miki sighed as the light turned green, but we remained in place, her foot on the brakes.
“Life's tough, isn't it? People like Hanako, or me, or Kenji... we're going to go back to the thirty year reunion and most of our friends are going to be dead. I don't want you to be on the list of people we miss when we go back one year.” I give a bitter smile.
“I'm trying my best, Miki. I really am. I honestly was scared to propose to Hanako because of my condition... but I can't waste time. I don't have much. I need to work hard, take care of myself, make lots of money and put a lot away. I want to have a house and my family taken care of by the time I'm gone.”
Yet, I didn't think I'd be able to. And I still wanted to try. Miki could tell.
“You're a good fuckin' guy, Nakai. Don't know why you got shafted in life. People like you shouldn't die.” I smirked. “Hell, if I could live forever... so many things I'd do. I could help so many people.” I guess that was my main motivation in life. I wasn't really living for myself. I was just charging forward with everyone else filling what used to be such a shallow husk of a person.
They were my fuel, they were my legs, they were my will. All these people I knew and cared about.
Before I knew it, I was in front of my apartment.
“Oh, that was fast.” I said as I rubbed my eyes. Miki pushed me playfully. “Yeah, you old fart. The minute I stopped talking, you started dozing off. I've never heard of someone napping as much as you do. Kenji tells me about it all the fuckin' time. Before he started up the bar, you two would hang out and you would just zonk out on the couch for no reason.”
I chuckled as I pushed open the door. “Hey, life is tiring. Gotta catch some sleep whenever you can, y'know? Thanks for the ride. I'll definitely swing by in my own car sometime in the future, Miki. Keep Kenji in line, I think you can manage it more than anyone else could.” She flexes her arm at me with a wink. “Damn right. Now go snuggle with your Hana-bear.” I nod, slamming the car door shut.
I walk towards the door of my apartment and before I could shove my key at the keyhole, it swung open.
Hanako was there, her eyes watering. “What's the matter?” I ask her as she drags me into the apartment and slams me against the wall with a hug. “I-I-I didn't th-th-think you were coming baaaack.” She sobs and I laugh as I press her head against my chest. “Oh, you. How much have you drank?” She shrugs, not sure. “Probably too much...” She whispers between a slight sob.
“You didn't do a-anything bad?” I shake my head. “Absolutely not. You can ask Misha tomorrow. I promise I didn't.” She frowns a bit at me, biting her lip and narrowing her eyes at me. “You better n-not have.”
Being drunk, I tilt her head back and kiss her a bit more forcefully than she expects. Her eyes widen and she's a little taken aback. “H-Hisao! People are still here. They're sleeping.” I jut a lip out at her.
“Aw, then no pre-emptive honeymoon for us. Such a shame.” She laughs, leading me by the hand to our bedroom. She's such a sweetheart. She could barely walk, yet she stood up this entire time so she could make sure we fell asleep together.
I'm so glad I met her.
My father and Mutou are helping me get my tux on. “Man, kiddo. Never thought I'd see this day.” My father says, adjusting my tie while Mutou helps slip on my tux.”
“Is it bad that I doubted it too?” I smirk sardonically. I barely thought I'd live through highschool, nevermind long enough to get married. “God, I'm fucking antsy.” I said, adjusting my tuxedo. “And broke now. All I can think about is all the people staring at me and how little money I have in the bank.” My father laughed hard, slapping me on the back.
“Welcome to marriage, son.”
“Any pearls of wisdom for me, Akio?” I asked, turning to Mutou, who was inspecting my clothes and making sure there was nothing out of place. “Don't blink, maybe. You might miss it. Everything happens fast.” Kenji basically kicks the door open the minute he's about to say something though. “God damn it, Hisao! Your fuckin' bouncer confiscated my whiskey.”
I nodded as I started buttoning up my tux and making sure there was no lint or anything on it. And that my damn hair was staying the way I wanted it to. My mother battled it for longer than it took to get my tuxedo and whatnot on. I glanced into the tall mirror. “I know, I told him to do that. I don't need you drunk and causing a fuss until the ceremony's over. I don't need my best man making a fool out of himself in front of my family and friends. And most of our former classmates.”
He snarled at me for a minute. “Fine, but that open bar better be free.”
“It is. I'll make sure to let them know you can drink as much as you can before you pass out on the bar.” This seemed to placate Kenji. “Good, good. Alright. How much time left before you're ready? You should probably get out there soon. And... uh, awkward question.”
“Shoot.” I said as I brushed a small wrinkle out of my coat.
“Who's gonna walk Hanako down the aisle if her dad's dead?” I frowned a little at how bluntly it's put, but Mutou clears his throat. “I am. I offered and she accepted. Like I told Hisao last night, I feel like my students and former are like my kids. I'd like to help each of them if possible.”
“You're a bro, Mutou. Glad to have you part of the anti-feminist resistance force.” I roll my eyes and try and calm myself. My heart is beating hard, although steadily. My stomach's not only in knots, but it feels like the damn thing has shoved itself into my throat.
“Well, everyone's ready. Hanako is too, so just get your ass in front of the altar. Let's get this show on the road so I can get drunk already.” My father arches an eyebrow at my best man. “Bit of an alcy, ain't he?” I shrug. “He keeps himself within bounds usually. He's surprisingly good at holding his booze.”
I take in a deep breath and let it go. “Alright, alright. Time to do this. You got the rings, Kenji?” He fishes the two out of his suit's pocket. Two rings, one golden with silver inlay and the other silver with golden inlay. The two intertwined colors are supposed to reflect how we'll always be a part of one another. I looked at them and felt a heat rising up in my chest.
It was happening. Today was the day. It was just starting to hit me now. I was marrying Hanako. After all this time, after all the things we've been through, after all the obstacles we've overcome together- today was the big day. The day we truly committed ourselves to one another, for the rest of our lives.
How fucking nerve-wracking. My hands were shaking, so I shook the shakes out of my hands as hard as I could. Kenji grinned at me. “Ah, relax buddy. You two were pretty much already married, now you're just making it official on tax forms.” Of course, what a way to look at it.
“I guess. Alright, let's do this.” We all left my dressing room and started heading towards the main room of the church, the church rather full. I gulped. I didn't realize Hanako had invited this many people.
Or had the resources to invite this many people. It looked like most of my family, all of our old classmates and even a handful of my old classmates from my old highschool. Lilly's family even showed up, flying in from Scottland. We had spent some time with them at their summerhouse one year and they really took to us. The rest I presumed to be Hanako's coworkers from the firm. Everyone here was beaming.
“No worries, son. You've gotten this far without messing up, you can do this too.” My dad informed me, patting me on the back as he took formation with Kenji besides me, Yuji, and Jack all suited up and looking sharp. Mutou was waiting at the base of the aisle so that when Hanako exited the dressing room, he'd take her hand and deliver her to the altar and then take his place as one of my men of honor.
The priest smiled at me as I took my position. He nodded to the organ player, who began playing those familiar tunes, the one all the kids used to hum. The one girls dreamed about, the song that meant promise and love.
I adjusted my bowtie a little. I was feeling a bit hot.
After a few seconds, Hanako appeared in the hall, Takara in front of her wearing a white dress and scattering pink and purple petals along the hall as my soon to be wife began walking to the tune of the organ. She interlocked her arm with Mutou's and the two began walking towards me.
Christ, did my throat just close up? Ah, fuck. I can't breath. That long white dress and that smile she was wearing completely stole my breath. Her hair was completely done up, curled gently at the bottom and her flowers were violets, much like the color of her eyes and hair. The veil flowed behind her, along with the train that two other girls she's counseled in the past.
She was looking right at me and I could see nothing but warmth in her eyes and bliss on her lips.
While we locked gazes, nothing else existed. Not Mutou, not Takara. Not anyone in the pews. Not the people to my right or left. It was just us. Only us. We were the only people in an entire universe and it was our love that filled it and gave it form. I felt my nerves easing and I couldn't help but let my expression loosen up and a smile fill my visage.
She then mouthed some words at me, words that only we could hear in our world betwixt.
“I love you.”
My heart skipped so hard I felt like the world shook with it. Eventually she reached the aisle after a beautiful eternity shared between the two of us. The three girls, Takara included, took their places besides Lilly, one of her other close friends from work and Tomo. Tomo was looking rather embarrassed, being a “Maid of Honor”, wearing a violet tux and holding a single flower. The other maids of honor were wearing violet gowns and holding similar bouquets.
Hanako had insisted that Tomo do this, because she considered him such a close friend after all the time she had spent with him, trying to help him. He adjusted his glasses nervously as the music finally stopped and I recentered my focus on the woman in front of me.
The priest smiles warmly at us both. “Since it is your intention to enter into marriage, please join your right hands and declare your intent for all to witness and behold.”
I take Hanako's hand, our fingers woven over each other's. She feels warmer than usual and I can sense the tenderness of her love for me in how she grasps my hand.
The priest nods. “Hisao Nakai. Do you take Hanako Ikezawa as your wife? Do you promise to be true to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her and honor her all the days of your life?” I squeeze her hand gently. “I do.”
“And do you, Hanako Ikezawa, take Hisao Nakai as your husband? Do you promise to be true to him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love him and honor him all the days of your life?” Although I expect her to be nervous, her resolve is clear and she shows no signs of hesitation. “Forever,” She says softly.
“You have clearly declared your intent to all who reside with here today; and may all goodness strengthen your consent and fill you with blessing.” He raises his hands towards us, looking out at all who is watching the ceremony. “What has been joined today is something that cannot be broken by man; two hearts bound as one.”
I turn towards Kenji, who realizes this is his cue. From his breastpocket, he fetches the rings that have been kept safely wrapped within a satin cloth. He hands it to the priest, who opens it in his hand and holds them between us.
I can barely pay attention to his words. All I can so is see Hanako and the tears that are beginning to form at the corner of her soft eyes. “May these rings forever be a reminder of the strength and fidelity of your love.”
I take the ring that belongs to Hanako and place it over her gloved left hand. She takes mine and does likewise. The priest closes his eyes and smiles, folding his hands.
“You may now kiss.”
I place my hand on her cheek, this moment feeling more natural than anything I had ever done in my life. The whole church is silent, waiting for the moment they've all been expecting.
“My s-scars... don't make me look b-bad in this dress, do they H-Hisao?” Her voice is barely a whisper, something only to be shared between us. I shake my head. “Nothing in the world could make you look bad in this dress.” She smiles, closing her eyes as a tear falls from both eyes and a large smile crosses her face. “I'm so glad.”
And with that, I pull her into the kiss she had probably thought would never be anything more than a daydream she sometimes had.
A roar of applause and cheering as we embraced.
The day rushed by faster than I felt humanly possible after that. The dancing to classic jazz and some ballads, the food, the pictures, the laughs and friends, the drinking and memories that were forged that day- I don't think for how fast that day felt, I could ever forget it.
The day finally ended, evening falling and the small limousine I had rented was out front of the venue we had rented for the wedding party after the reception.
Cans were tied to it and 'Happily Married!' was painted on the back of the window. Hanako nearly dragged me to the limousine and into it as I waved goodbye to my friends, all of them cheering and whistling after us.
The minute we were in the limo and the door had closed, Hanako turned to me with an enormous smile on her face.
“I can't wait until we get home.”
And then she climbed on top of me, kissing my neck and trying to pull off my tux and dress shirt. “Hana, Hana! Let's not do this in the limousine, the driver might watch.” Hanako pulls away for a second, although her hands are still wrapped around my collar.
“I-I almost don't care.” She says as she kisses me again, pressing her body against mine in a... questionable location. “Ughhhh, g-god damn it. How long until we're home?” She asked, her voice faint and her eyes narrowed. I have never seen her this forward. I wasn't complaining, it was an... Ahem. Interesting change.
“About fifteen minutes, ma'am.” The limousine driver said through the little window separating the back and the front of the limo. Hanako paused for a moment. “C-can you make it ten?” The driver laughed shortly. “Yes ma'am.” The limousine sped up a little and Hanako giggled as she dragged me to the seat with her as she continued peppering me with kisses that I returned gladly.
It didn't seem like much time had passed, but the driver had stopped and leaned backwards, looking through the window. “We're here. Congratulations on your marriage, all of us from the Variance Limousines wish you many years of happiness.” He said, with a tip of his hat. I grin at him.
“Hey, you look kind of familiar. Do I know you?” I ask. He looks kind of plain, but with a defined face I think I've seen somewhere before. He turns away, only an eye viewing me from the rearview. “Probably not. I'm just that guy who drives the limousine and makes sure couples like you get the fairy-tale wedding stories they deserve. Nothing more.”
His words seem strange, but I shrug them off. “Well, thank you for providing ours. Maybe one day you'll get your own.” The limousine driver laughs at this. “Maybe, one day. Now get going, you've got a night and the rest of your future together to enjoy.”
With that, I push open the limousine’s door and scoop up my wife who shrieks a laugh in surprise. Kicking the door shut, I carry Hanako to our apartment's door, which I manage to open with one hand while still cradling Hanako.
“My big strong old man.” Hanako teases, kissing me and rubbing her nose against mine, her breath on my lips and her eyes delving into mine. I can't resist anything about this girl. Not a single thing.
I carry her to the bedroom, where several violet candles were already lit and setting an atmosphere for us. “Hisao, you romantic. How did you set this up?” I grinned. “My dad has a key to the apartment, I asked him to light these before we got here.” She grinned as she leaned forward and began nibbling gently on my neck.
My hands wandered to behind her, unzipping the dress that covered her. Like clockwork, our clothes came off piece by piece until they were scattered around the floor and I was leaned over her, both of our bodies just inches from one another, the heat from each other's skin warming each other.
“I should probably get a condom, shouldn't I?” I whispered as our lips met slightly, teasing each other with light kisses. Hanako shook her head. “N-no. Not today. O-once should be okay, especially seeing as it's our h-honeymoon.” She wraps her arms around me and pulls me closer, her other hand trailing down my back and between my legs to guide my entrance.
A single, sharp gasp.
How long has it been? An hour? God, I didn't know. Hanako had been a monster, preventing me from finishing until she was utterly satisfied. Now we were both spent and she was pressing herself against my chest, kissing it every now and then while I held her closely, both of us looking to the rings on our hands.
“Ready to sleep?” I ask.
Hanako shakes her head, squeezing me tightly.
“N-not yet. There was one more thing I wanted to do.” She says with a guilty smile.
Oh boy, what in the world was she planning? Hanako rolls over to the endtable beside the bed, opening a drawer and retrieving something from within it.
Two 3DSes. We had both bought each other one last Christmas, without realizing were both getting the exact same thing for each other. Hers was a glossy black and purple 3DS, mine was a black and green one.
“C-can we play some monster hunter together before we fall asleep? I r-really need help on a certain mission...” I look at her exasperatedly, but I can't contain the enormous smile on my face. This was why I loved her. I take my 3DS from her and open it up while she rests against my chest with a look of pure happiness as she opens hers too.
“Of course, sweetheart. Anything for you.”