A Different Future (Parts 1 through 4)

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Fardels
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A Different Future (Parts 1 through 4)

Post by Fardels » Fri Aug 17, 2012 8:49 am

This future begins three and a half odd years from the Emi ending (good), though it involves some of the other characters pretty heavily and some items from other paths. There are four parts - this is the first.

Enjoy.

P. T. Bridgeport

PART ONE - THE LEAVES FADE

Chapter 1 – The Great Rice Debate

“Brown rice should be an ideal food,” thought Minoru Mutou, as he stood in the aisle of the grocery. “Because it’s less milled, it has macrobiotics and minerals that more processed rice doesn’t. It is less environmentally harmful and more in harmony with the universe and with the evolution of man. There’s just one problem. No matter what you do to it, it still tastes like brown rice.”

Well there’s always white rice, and jasmine rice, and the rices from India… He muttered at himself. He went through this every time he needed more rice, and after spending far too much time thinking about it, usually went with his normal brand. He used to be like that with ties, until he got so angry that he bought plain black ones, and wore them with everything. For every scientific challenge, there’s an answer.

He snatched a bag of his normal rice and stepped back from the shelf. He was not normally the most observant of people anyway, and the Great Rice Debate had made him oblivious. The part of his back that covered his right kidney came into sharp contact with a solid object that did not move. Kidneys don’t handle collisions well, and transmit their discomfort immediately to the brain. His vision blurred for a second and then returned.

He had lived with himself long enough to know who was at fault. He turned and with as much breath as he had left, uttered an apology in a somewhat deeper voice than he normally had. The solid object was the left elbow of a woman plainly but attractively dressed, who looked up at his weak grin as he spoke. And then she smiled. The radiance of that smile eclipsed a supernova. It poured through his eyes and lit the corners of his soul. This was no young woman, but it didn’t matter. Bird sung, stars collided, and for a brief moment, his entire being was at one with the forces of the universe. She had apparently accepted his apology.

Mutou sprang into action. He snatched up the bag of rice, grinned another apology, and moved slowly to the spices aisle. The universe-blinding smile on the woman became a grin, with one corner up. The one time it happened that it was a real accident. It just wasn’t her day…

The shaken Mutou found himself looking at a container of fenugreek, when he was really looking for ginger. The corners of his soul had stayed unlit, for what, twenty years now? Ahh, the early days of Masami, the woman who loved him, the woman who he wooed and won. The woman who became confused and disappointed when he couldn’t become what she wanted him to be. The woman who became nothing more than a signature on the back of his alimony payments. What was the song? “I hear from my ex-, on the back of my checks…”

There were no more checks, of course – there hadn’t been for years now. Masami the beautiful girl had become Masami the elegant and radiant woman. She could not and would not remain unmarried forever. He found a nice wedding card and sent the last check in that.

Oh, he had dated after the breakup, but it wasn’t the same. He had two interests in life, science and music. He always seemed to talk about science to the music-loving women, and vice versa. He became more set in his ways and less patient with the requirements for meeting new people, much less female ones. The classroom kept his mind busy and filled whatever requirement he had for socializing. Overfilled it, much of the time.

He put the fenugreek back and picked up a jar of ground ginger, twisting his body slightly. His kidney was still achy, and he could swear that he had another twinge, maybe a slightly sunburned soul. He smiled at the thought and checked his watch. It was time to get the groceries home, put on his black suit, and head downtown to Shigeta’s.

Chapter 2 – Elegance at Shigeta’s

If you were downtown, and suddenly felt the urge to buy a quart of the finest French perfume, six or eight designer dresses, or a flat screen television that would cover an entire wall, Shigeta’s would be the logical stopping place. It was an old school department store, where people went to be seen as well as to shop. Most of the others are gone now, but Shigeta’s carries on. People go there for the sumptuous atmosphere as much as for goods.

Knowing this, the management placed a piano by the escalator at the lower level, strategically located between ladies shoes and the in-store café, which required reservations a week in advance. Mutou had sat at that piano for twenty hours a week ever since the divorce. At first, the extra money had been required to support Masami’s elegance and radiance; after her remarriage, he played because he liked it, and because it made computer-assisted telescopes and better cars possible.

Nowadays, he even seemed to fit comfortably on the bench, almost like the wood had worn away to fit his shape. He slid onto it, found the sweet spot, and in a few seconds, began to play. Shigeta’s customers had a weakness for sweet, sad western classical music – tonight he would start with Claire de Lune, Pavane for a Dead Princess, and the Meditation from Thais. After that, a little Bach maybe, or Fur Elise. He knew all of it well – that was his taste too. Occasionally, just to keep his skills, he‘d try a little Scott Joplin, but that was as radical as he got. If he had been more daring, who knows, maybe Masami wouldn’t be living in Tokyo with a merchant banker now. Oh well – it is what is and he was who he was.

Every so often, a small cluster of customers would gather around the piano. That happened now, in the middle of the Pavane. Occasionally, they would ask for favorite songs; Americans seemed inordinately fond of The Yellow Rose of Texas or New York State of Mind. He decided long ago that he would learn neither; they just didn’t fit him. He didn’t know English anyway, so he just smiled until they went away.

A cluster of women, perhaps a half dozen, formed a ragged semicircle around the piano on his right. He finished the Pavane and stopped briefly. They looked like many of Shigeta’s customers – not the quart of French perfume type, but here to soak in the atmosphere. He was about to start on the Meditation when a soft voice floated from behind him. “Excuse me, would you play something for me? You really ought to, you know.”

He glanced behind him. It was the woman from the grocery. The blinding smile had been replaced by a smaller one, tentative, still friendly, with just a lemony touch of justice. He blinked twice, smiled vaguely, and rapidly searched through his repertoire. Not the Meditation… His hands moved quickly to the keys.

He finished the song, and the women moved on. The smiling woman turned to one of her companions. “Hikari, what was that song? Do you know it from the Academy?” Bach , clearly, but I don’t know much piano music.
Hikari smiled and nodded – she’d better, she taught music there. “Mmmm, yes. Bach. The Prelude in F, from The Well Tempered Clavier.” She paused for a moment. “Do you know that man?”

“Not really. We ran into each other at the grocer’s. Literally.”

“Hmm… Interesting. It’s just that… usually it’s only an exercise, little more than a way to knock the rust off your fingers.”

“And?”

“He played it with a lot of emotion. Like a love song.”

The smiling woman blinked. “Yes, I certainly noticed that.”

Chapter 3 – Present Imperfect

If the standard model of the universe is so great, why can’t it characterize dark energy more precisely? And is dark energy the only explanation for the acceleration of the universe? Physics made Hisao’s head hurt, and combining astrophysics with nuclear physics made it hurt worse. He was far more comfortable with biology, where you could observe what happened, and if a theory didn’t support it, then you changed the theory. Bumblebees can’t fly, except they do – time to rework the theory.

“Thud!” the door to the apartment slammed. That could only be Shin – neither of the other apartment mates were that loud. Hisao had always had the innate ability to concentrate – so it was a momentary distraction. Back to dark matter…

Some form of dark matter whacked him on the shoulder. “Hey, you!”

He looked up. It was Emi. Of course. If Shin was here, Emi might be here too. He grinned widely.

“Hey, Emi! How are you? How’s the track team shaping up?”

“We’re good. We may even be great. The first meet is at the end of the week. Are you going to come watch?”

“Yeah, I’ll probably be there.” He still enjoyed watching Emi run. He had nothing better to do anyway. It wasn’t like before, when he would kiss the usual winner after the race, but watching Emi run still fascinated him.

They had lost each other in the middle of the second year of college. Emi had gotten the track scholarship she wanted and was tied up in the athletic program. He smiled to himself – a track scholarship for somebody who ran on blades? She was amazing. She had decided to teach sports and spent a good deal of time at local high schools learning the basics. Hisao decided to focus on biology and spent hours in labs and behind his computer. They began not to have time for each other. Oh, there was still the morning run, but his day with Emi usually ended before most people got up. When Emi finally said that she didn’t see a future, Hisao had to agree with her and they parted.

He had gotten the fourth year apartment with two friends, but they were a person short. Shin was a friend of a friend, a lithe fellow of medium height. He was a decent enough guy, apart from a little noise, and was apparently a runner himself. One day, he mentioned he was bringing his girlfriend over. Guess who.

Even after a year and a half, seeing Emi took some getting used to. Emi still stirred up some strong emotions that he had eventually quelled with fanatical attention to study and a strong dose of logic. She was right – they had no future together, and she seemed happy with Shin. When it came right down to it – that’s what he wanted – Emi to be happy.

“Hey, guess who I saw today,” she chirped.

“Okay. Usain Bolt? Jon Snow? The Invisible Man?” That earned him another whack.

“Idiot. No, I saw Hanako. She’s working for the morning paper now, in the editorial department. She said that there’s small get-together at the Shanghai Tearoom over by Yamaku Friday evening, and she said to tell you too. Apparently there’s a surprise waiting for us.”

“Well, that’s intriguing. Are you going?"

“The night before a race? No, I don’t think so. I won’t even see Shin then. Training, you know.”

“Ah. Well maybe I’ll go anyway. Hanako and surprises are an unusual combination.”

Emi looked she was going to say something, but Shin materialized in the hall, and the two of them disappeared out the door.

He wondered if Hanako was as painfully shy. If she was working for a newspaper now, probably not.

Chapter 4 – The Return

Hanako’s surprise was tall and blonde and newly flown in from halfway around the world. It surprised Hisao a little – how glad he was to see Lilly. She had always been a minor presence in his life, but comfort and well-being seemed to surround her. The years since Yamaku had been good to her – her face was a little more defined and the dress she wore, while still conservative, was a vast improvement on the high school uniform. She still had that air of detachment and serenity.

“Lilly, how good to see you!” Hisao said, and he meant it. “How long will you be with us?”

For just a moment, Lilly’s expression faltered. “Well, quite a while, I think. I’m moving back here. I’m staying with Hanako right now, and I’ve been accepted to the university for next semester.”

“Ah, that certainly makes me happy. How was Scotland?” Hisao’s question was carefully framed – if she’d been that happy with Scotland, she probably wouldn’t be back.

“It was very interesting. I think I grew considerably. I went to the university there and visited with my parents often. My sister has a very responsible position in the family business, so I didn’t see her as much as I would have liked. Scotland is a charming place, but it’s very different from here. In the end, I decided that I would be more content coming back to Japan. I don’t think it’s homesickness, I just think Japan is a more comfortable place for me to be. Now tell me, how are you? And how is Emi?”

“Well I decided that as fascinated as I was with physics, biology is what I really want to work in. There are lots of wonderful things happening in biochemistry right now, and I am going to try to do graduate work. I’ve been talking to one of the pharmaceutical companies about a lab position when I graduate, and they seem interested. I’ll know more after the new semester starts.”

Emi… I see Emi a fair amount, but we’re not dating any more. We’re just on different paths, I guess.”

“I’m sorry things didn’t work out for the two of you,” Lilly said in a suitably lowered voice. “You were very close when I left.”

“I think it’s for the best. I have a heavy…” he stopped because Lilly’s expression had changed. Several times. First surprise, then recognition, then something that he’d never seen before, not that he’d seen surprise that often either. A huge smile crossed her face, a delight he’s never seen on Lilly’s face before. What?

She turned to her left as if she were watching. Hanako was approaching with a man he didn’t know. He didn't think this guy was a Yamaku graduate. If anything, he was a male version of Lilly – tall broad-shouldered, and fully sighted, because his expression nearly matched hers. His hair was a bit darker than hers, and he had no apparent Japanese heritage, but he was Lilly in trousers. She’d heard the voice, no doubt.

“Gordon? Gordon Cameron?” Lilly gasped. She flew to her feet. She and Gordon embraced warmly. Hisao didn’t know much about what happened after that, because the conversation had switched to English well beyond his comprehension.

Hanako edged over and whispered, “Gordon was Lilly’s English tutor in the Catholic school. When Lilly announced she was coming back, I looked him up and invited him.” Him? Tutor? He must be only five, okay, maybe seven years older. Still, he was obviously a native speaker. Lilly’s face still morphed from expression to expression, most of which Hisao had never seen, but happiness played a big part in all of them. He might have gotten impatient, had he not gotten embarrassed well before. Whatever these people were saying to each other, it had nothing to do with him.

He turned his attention to Hanako, and found that the editorial life suited her. They were giving her a chance to write and she found that she did it well. It would be hard to see Hanako as a street reporter, but the chance to write gave her life a scope and context it had never had before. She had a new confidence and had seemed to gather a center, something he had never seen in Hanako before. Large vestiges of the old Hanako remained, and she was still painfully shy about her appearance, but she had made huge strides since Yamaku.

As the evening edged to a close, Gordon and Lilly were still enmeshed with each other. Lilly stopped briefly to exchange a few words with Hanako, and then went back to her tutor. Hanako smiled softly, “Gordon has volunteered to take Lilly home to my place. Not much of a surprise.”

No indeed. If he had any thoughts about getting closer to Lilly, they had frozen in place and then melted away. Lilly’s immediate future seemed to have room for little more than Gordon Cameron.

Chapter 5 – Introduction

There were teachers at Yamaku who made a second career from parent and alumni functions – they felt that they were more likely to keep signing new teaching contracts if they developed friendships in those areas. It also seemed to be a path to a bigger voice in how the school was run, and eventually, promotions.

Minoru Mutou understood the concept, but he didn’t have the time to deal with it. Between the school, Shigeta’s and his scientific interests, there wasn’t the time. Still, he’d go to them every once in a while, just to keep his hand in. He received a number of invitations to functions that had a piano available for some strange reason, and that was fine with him.

He wasn’t sure about this one though, even if he had already accepted. On one hand, it was terribly flattering. Hikari Nomura, who he did not know, came by his room to personally invite him to her association luncheon. Not only that – she was one of the music teachers, so the decision to invite him was an informed one. On the other, he was never entirely comfortable around the humanities people. It was hard to find common interests. Still, if he treated it as just another session at Shigeta’s, with some canapés thrown in, things should go well.

He showed up promptly for once, and quickly scanned the room. The piano sat by a wall of French doors that lead to a large walled garden, with a patio between the doors and the garden. The green area had a sizable pond in the middle, and had been laid out as a stroll garden, with small paths and beautiful trees and bushes. Mutou loved stroll gardens – coming here was clearly the right thing to do. Having the piano that close to the French doors was probably not the right thing, but he had learned music on pianos that were less than perfect.

More people entered the room now, strangers. No wait, he knew that girl, the one with the cane. Miss, ummm, Satou, was it, from a few years back? Good student, but no scientist. Looked like she’s brought her brother. No wait – look at them smile at each other. No family relationship there – not yet, anyway. They were being perfectly proper, yet they were obviously lost to the world in each other. Mutou smiled to himself. Ah, it was the early days with Masami all over again. He remembered how that felt.

He smiled to himself again, and moved quickly to the piano. He hadn’t played that song it years. He had always thought of it as Masami’s song but, well, she wasn’t using it right now.

It started as a simple little tune, but increased in complexity and volume. Then the second theme, a rumbling, emotional passage that said something of loss. Then back to the original theme, but full of longing and emotion. His fingers played the notes as if they had their own minds and his feet hit the pedals with long forgotten emphasis. Muscle memory, he supposed. He had played it dozens of times during the Masami years, both to her and to himself.
When he finished, he felt elated and foolish – elated because he still remembered it so well, and foolish to think that they had paid any attention at all. He smiled to himself again.

“Sir?”

He looked up to see the young blond man. He smiled. “Yes?”

“That was wonderful, sir. I don’t know the music. What is the piece, please?”

“Cesar Franck. Prelude, Fugue and Variation. It’s usually an orchestral piece, but a pianist named Awadagin Pratt commissioned a keyboard version years ago.”

“Ah. Odd, sir. It was almost like you were reading my mind. What you played and what I was feeling… Miss Satou said the same thing.”

“Oh! Well, that particular song means a great deal to me. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

Sometimes you win. The universe plays by its own rules. He was inordinately pleased with himself. What next? Maybe one of the Gymnopedies…

“May I join you?”

He looked up, with the automatic, hopefully gracious refusal on his lips. It never left them. It was the woman with the cosmic smile, and a cello came attached to her this time. The universe plays by its own rules. Who was he to refuse them?

“I’d be honored. Thank you for thinking of it. What shall we play?”

“One of my favorites is Vocalise. Rachmaninoff?

“Yes, I know that one.”

Most of the time, the Vocalise string part is played by a violin. Her cello gave it a new resonance and depth, and she was good, incredibly good. After the piece was over, they walked in the garden, while the association performed whatever functions were an excuse for the luncheon. She was a cellist with the local symphony orchestra, a widow with a child graduated from Yamaku. But those were facts, mere facts. She was charming, she was interesting, and she seemed to appreciate him. He didn’t bring up physics once – every time he thought about it, she smiled and he was lost to the scientific world.

He left the luncheon with her address, a date made, and a massive amount of schedule rearranging to do. The night creatures seemed to be streaming from the corners of his soul. Oh dear, try to tell that to some of his hard science colleagues and see what reaction he’d get.
Last edited by Fardels on Mon Aug 20, 2012 7:45 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Fardels
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Re: A Different Future (Parts 1 and 2)

Post by Fardels » Sat Aug 18, 2012 7:04 am

Part Two – Frost Creeps On The Town

Chapter 6 – The Star of Assam

The fall deepened and leaves flew from the trees, turning brown and dead underfoot. The university life slipped into high gear. Hisao was besieged with lab work, homework, and peeks into the future. The pharmaceutical lab was still interested, and hinted strongly that a graduate degree was possible by working there. He saw Emi from time to time, with Shin of course, but Lilly became little more than the memory she was after she’d left for Scotland. He’d heard that she and Gordon Cameron spent most of their time together. Lucky Gordon.

Afternoon was fast becoming evening when he spotted Lilly down the street. She had her cane, but seemed to be having more trouble navigating than she usually did. He decided to move closer.

For the second time in as many months, he saw Lilly without her serene smile, and this time, happiness played no part in it. The look on her face was of stunned contemplation, not unlike the one he saw in reflections of himself in troubled times. The weather wasn’t helping – the first of the stiff winter breezes flowed in from the northwest. But this had nothing to do with winter; her chill came from within her.

“Lilly!” he called out. As she turned, she walked rapidly up her. “It’s Hisao…”

She attempted a smile, a good attempt, but her face wasn’t up to it. “Good evening, Hisao. How are you this brisk evening?”

“I’m fine, Lilly. I was just headed to a little café I know. They have several exotic tea varieties. I’d like you to join me. Do you have the time?”

She looked dubious for a moment and then agreed. She took his arm, and in less than five minutes they were at the Star of Assam. It was richly paneled in dark wood, and the low light gave it a dim mystery. Hisao chose a booth in a dark corner, not that there were that many people here anyway. She removed her coat as the tea was brewing, revealing a thick winter sweater in some sort of elegant fisherman’s weave. He poured the tea and guided her hand gently toward the cup.

“Nice. This is very nice,” she said. Something of her old aplomb had returned, but it still sounded odd somehow, like she was playing a part she hadn’t fully learned the script for.

As he searched for conversation starters, she brought the matter to a head. “You sounded quite positive that you wanted me to join you. What leads you to seek my company this evening?”

“Ahhh, I don’t know how to say this. Remember when you invited me to tea at Yamaku? I was disoriented and somewhat sad, and sitting in the room with you and Hanako was the first nice thing that happened to me. You were so kind and cheerful that I thought that maybe I could survive after all.” She smiled as he spoke, probably remembering more about that afternoon than he did. “Yes. I do remember.”

“Whenever I saw you after that, it was the same. You carry this air of kindness and confidence wherever you go.” She smiled again, somewhat crookedly this time. “The school before Yamaku included that as part of the curriculum. We were to arrange our faces just so, no matter how we felt.”

“Perhaps, but with you, I always felt there was something behind it, even if it was just the will to feel that way.”

She smiled again, almost to herself. She started to say something, and after a lengthy pause, just said “Thank you.”

“Lilly, it’s impossibly presumptuous of me, but for almost the first time, I saw something very different on your face out in the street. Are you all right? Is there something I can do?”

This last smile was almost crooked enough not to be a smile at all. “Thank you, Hisao, no. There’s nothing you can do. I have a personal problem I’m wrestling with, and I’m afraid my concentration on that got the better of me. I promise you, the old Lilly will surface again. She just isn’t uppermost in my mind right now.”

“I won’t press if you don’t want me to, but I owe you a great deal, Lilly. If you need to talk, I owe you at least that.”

She dropped the smile completely this time, looking just sad and bewildered. “I don’t know what there is to say. I just talked to Gordon. We’ve become close. In fact, we’ve been dating.” She stopped to capture her thoughts.

“He’s returning to Edinburgh in some weeks. We talked about me joining him there, but that’s impossible for me. And he feels it is impossible for him to stay. So I am to be separated from a man that I have come to care deeply for, a man I have cared about for some time. If you were my sister, you would tell me that life is like that, and I will get over the attachment. That’s probably true, but I don’t feel that way just at this moment. I feel somewhat lost and bereft.” And with that, she put her chin on her chest.”

Hisao nodded. “I know your sister is right, and I also know that it doesn’t help a bit right now. If I were you, I’d feel just the same. In fact, I did, when Emi and I decided not to be together anymore.

Lilly, you came back here for a reason. I don’t know what that reason was, and I don’t need to. But I don’t think Gordon played a big part in your decision to return. If Gordon can’t be a part of your life, you should think about why you came back and do whatever you planned to do.

That’s for tomorrow or next week. Right now you feel terrible, if you are anything like me. That’s okay. If that school taught you that you’re not entitled to feel terrible every once in a while, they were wrong, really wrong. Go ahead – take your time to feel terrible. Nobody will mind. One good thing about being here is that you are among friends now. You are surrounded by people who you have always treated with kindness and respect. We would be pretty awful if we couldn’t return the favor.”

He might have said more, but she grasped his arm tightly, and leveraged herself toward him. Before he knew what was happening, she was in his arms, tears pouring down her cheeks. She was enough of the old Lilly not to make loud noises, but she held him in a tight embrace and buried her head in his shoulder.

What do you say to a crying woman? Hisao wasn’t positive he knew what to say to a perfectly happy one. So he said nothing. He held her as she wept and occasionally stroked her hair, in what he could only hope was a soothing manner.
After perhaps ten minutes, she released him. “I’ve embarrassed myself horribly,” she said with that crooked smile. “I’m so sorry, Hisao. I didn’t mean to do that to you. Oh, if anybody hears of this, I’ll be mortified.”

“I don’t know that it happened, Lilly. I can’t remember anything about it myself.”

The gracious smile that lit her face was more than a reward for anything he did. “Thank you very much, Hisao. I need to know I have friends, though I didn’t expect to need quite so good a friend quite so much. That’s one of the primary reasons I came back. It’s good to be home. No, I won’t be going to Edinburgh.”

He walked with her to Hanako’s place, perhaps a mile away. He would have walked with her if Hanako had lived in Kobe. She tried to make conversation, but her heart clearly wasn’t in it and they lapsed into a silence. She hugged him again at the door and whispered “thank you.”

Despite the winter chill, he made the trip home in record time. His feet tended to move faster when he felt good about himself. He had been moving slowly for months.

Chapter 7 - The Newest Member

When Hisao returned to the apartment, Shin was staring at the TV with a can of beer in his hand and two empties on the table. That wasn’t really Shin – he normally avoided the TV, and never drank alone. He looked up as Hisao entered.

“Hey, Hisao. I’ve got news, man. I’ve joined your club…”

“Uh, what club is that, Shin?”

“The Emi’s Ex-Boyfriends Club.”

“Ouch. I’m really sorry, Shin. You seemed pretty close. What happened?”

“That’s the hard part. I don’t really know. There were always things she kept to herself, but I thought we got along well. All of a sudden, she shut me out completely. Okay, maybe that isn’t entirely the story. For the past week, something has been on her mind. It’s like I wasn’t there, except I was. I wanted to talk about it – people do that, you know. She didn’t want to, not even a little. I pressed a little and she got mad. I thought she’d gotten over it, but tonight she decided that we really shouldn’t see each other anymore.

I don’t think I’m heartbroken, but I don’t think I did anything wrong, either. Like, if I had gotten out of line on something, I could just write it off as a fault in me. But I thought I was being pretty decent. Helpful, even.”

Hisao nodded. “Hmmm. I don’t know what she has on her mind, but pressing her was a bad idea. She’s sensitive about that. After her accident, she did an awful lot of the therapy by herself, and now she tries to do most things herself. If you try to help, she thinks that you pity her, and she hates that.”

“Whatever, man. Like I said, I’m not heartbroken. I don’t think it was the romance of the century. We really enjoyed the things we did together, but there was too much that I didn’t know, and wasn’t ever going to."

“Yeah. It’s still tough.”

“Well, I’ve had enough TV for one evening. Getting rid of this beer on the around the track tomorrow isn’t going to be pleasant.”

“Want to come out to the track with me tomorrow morning, Shin?”

“Thanks anyway, Hisao. You’re up and running way before I can even stand.” Hisao ran very early now, in part to avoid Emi.

“Night, Shin.” Hisao was all too familiar with the sense of failure Shin talked about. He’d felt the same thing. Maybe if he’d been whatever it was the Emi wanted… But he wasn’t, and probably wouldn’t ever be, and she never really told him what she was looking for anyway. With Emi and Shin separating, maybe her absence would help heal those nagging doubts about himself, the sense that he wasn’t quite good enough.

His mind wandered back to biology. There’s this theory that evolution doesn’t happen gradually and predictably. The Punctuated Equilibrium Thesis says that things go along with hardly any change, and then all of a sudden, something catastrophic happens and things evolve in a hurry to adjust to the catastrophe. He had been pretty fixated on his work for a year and a half for lack of anything else. Now his personal environment was changing. Maybe the evolution would be for the better. He hoped he’d seen the last of tears for awhile though. They were like kryptonite – they always made him feel helpless.

Chapter 8 – The Summit Meeting

He didn’t notice the figure at the top of the stands until he was through with his warm-ups. The stands were on the other side of the track, some distance away, and the occasional track watcher was not exactly new. He ignore the sitter on his first lap around the track, and on the second, the sitter was a stander, and waving at him. What? He looked closer. Emi. She wasn’t usually here for another two hours.

He jogged to the side of the track, then up to the top of the bleachers where she stood. She looked uncomfortable. “Can you sit with me? There’s no one else I can talk to…” He nodded, and then sat next to her.

Hisao had seen Emi in many moods, including some that he’d like to forget. This one seemed to be a mixture of those – intensity, anger, sorrow…

She stared at him, as if she was trying to make sure he heard every word. And heaven help him if he didn’t.

“I went to my house last week, first thing in the morning. There was something I needed from my old room. When I got there, I kind of snuck in – my mom likes to sleep late sometimes. As I passed the kitchen, I looked in. There was a man at the sink. He was trying to pour water into the kettle. He was wearing my father’s robe.

I just stood there. My mom has dated, but inviting a man home? She never did that.”

Hisao nodded. Something like that has to be a shock. He opened his mouth, and Emi held up a finger.

“I’m not through. The man turned and saw me. We stared at each other for a few seconds. And then he said, ‘Good morning, Miss Ibarazaki’, just like that, and put the kettle on the stove. I recognized him, Hisao. It was Mutou.

I had to leave, right then. As I went to the door, he called out, ‘Would you like some tea?’ As if we were in the cafeteria or something. I slammed the door as hard as I could and hurried to the bus stop.

I hate this, Hisao. I don’t want a new father, and even if I did… Mutou? I don’t want him in my house. I don’t want him in my kitchen, and I certainly don’t want him in my father’s robe. How could she? Mutou?” There were tears in Emi’s eyes, but she’d be damned if she’d cry them. She sat there silently, like an unexploded shell waiting to go off.

Hisao thought for a moment. Emi was right – Mutou and Meiko Ibarazaki was a strange combination, to say the least. And he was starting to get used to seeing tears, not that it made seeing them any easier. Lilly had wanted physical contact – he was pretty sure that if he tried to hug Emi, that shell would go off. She almost looked like she was daring him to try. Well that was the first thing to take care of.

Hisao sighed, let his body go limp, and slumped back on the bleachers.

“Wow, that’s a lot of surprises to walk in on, Emi. No wonder you’re upset. I wonder if you’ve gotten everything right, though.”

“C’mon Hisao… I saw what I saw. What other interpretation could there be?”

“Well, okay… but that’s not what I meant. Emi, your father, he was a good father, right?”

“Yeah. He was a great father.”

“And his work – he did a good job, didn’t he? And he made enough money to keep everyone comfortable?”

“He was really good at what he did. So what?”

“Your dad was a runner, and he liked it enough to get you interested in it. I’d bet he put in some pretty rapid times, just like you.”

Emi was getting annoyed now. “Yeah.”

“And he was a good companion for your mother.”

She nodded impatiently.

“Your father was a pretty versatile guy. Great father, great provider, great worker, great runner. I probably left a few things out. I’d hate to have to stand in his shoes. I think Mutou would be stupid to try. And whatever else he is, Mutou is not stupid.”

“Then why is he in my kitchen?”

“It’s pretty obvious that Mutou and your mother have some sort of relationship. Emi, your mother hasn’t had anyone in her life for quite a while now. Isn’t that true?”

Emi nodded, and her face relaxed, just slightly.

“Maybe Mutou can be a good companion for your mother. They have to work that out themselves. But if they decide to get together, or even if they decide to stay together, Mutou isn’t going to try to be your father. He’s not going to your father’s office to sit at his desk. He’s not putting on running shoes and racing. He’s not going to tell you to clean your room and do your homework.

Your father did a lot of terrific things, and he did them all at the same time. Nobody will ever do those things the way he did them, much less all at once. Mutou is Mutou. He’ll do things in his own way, at his own pace. The one thing I know for certain is that he won’t ever try to replace your father. For one thing, he’s too sensible. For another, you’ve grown up. You don’t need the things from a father that you did when you were ten.

Of all the things that your dad did and your dad was, Mutou is trying to be good to your mother. One thing. It seems like he’s succeeding, to some degree. I’m like you – I don’t understand why it works. But it looks like it does.”

Emi’s face had softened as Hisao spoke. It hardened again, although maybe not quite as much.

“I still don’t like it. It’s still weird and ugly.”

“Maybe it’s just new. Maybe you walked in on something that you weren’t supposed to see. If it were me, I’d talk to your mom, and see what she’s thinking. You can’t find out anything sitting on the bleachers. When you know more, you can figure out how you feel about it. But you have to know the real situation. Emi, you have half a school year left before you graduate. I know you well enough to know that you’d want a place of your own, and you are more capable of taking care of yourself than anyone, including me. Mutou is never going to be your father, even if he were dumb enough to try. And I don’t think he is.”

Emi sighed. Most of the anger had left her face, even if the bewilderment and hurt were still there. “Maybe you’re right, Hisao. But it’s still awful.”

They sat and talked for awhile, a stilted, awkward conversation. Emi finally rose from her seat. “Okay, I have a lot of things to do. I’ll see you later.”

She headed for the door, but a few steps away, turned to face the table.

“Hisao?”

“Yeah, Emi?”

“Thanks.”

Hisao nodded, and allowed himself his first grin since the conversation started.

“Sure, Emi. I always have time for you. And I always will.”

Just for a second, Emi’s face had the bewildered look. Then she turned and marched into her day.

Chapter 9 – The Flight Home

The days became shorter, and the leaves deserted the trees completely. In the dim twilight of an early evening, Gordon Cameron sat in seat 17C as the plane left Tokyo-Narita for London. It wasn’t exactly the most comfortable seat in the world, but it was his for the next twelve and a half hours and 6200 odd miles. And once at Heathrow, there would be the connection to Edinburgh.

Twelve hours is a long time to sit and think about things. He had left for Japan fresh from the University, ready to see the world and do great things. He had the promise of a tutoring job and the prospect of travelling around Japan and all of Asia. Just as mathematicians and musicians seem to resonate with each other, so does Japan seem to resonate with the Scots. Gordon discovered Japan in middle school, and it started a fascination that still stayed with him, even after several years in the country. But now he was tired, and it was time to grow up. It had been the longest, most glorious gap time ever.

He wanted to taste a decent ale. He wanted to go to some pub and have a ploughman’s lunch, or maybe a scotch egg, the deep fried sausage oozing grease around the egg. He wanted to be in the stands when the Hearts won a league title. Japan was wonderful, and he’d love to go back, but that wasn’t really being an adult.

He’d miss the people and the culture – he really enjoyed them. The tutoring and teaching too – he had a facility for that, because he threw himself into the task with the same frenzy that most of his students did. He’d miss that.
There were too many regrets to count, even on a twelve hour flight, with eleven hours, forty-nine minutes left on it. And that’s before he got to the elephant in the room when it came to his thoughts. Somebody told him that when there’s an elephant in the room, introduce it to everyone. Well folks, meet Lilly. Trust him to meet the girl of his dreams as he decided to leave. Trust her to be the best thing that ever happened to him, besides discovering his love for Japan. Trust her to adamantly refuse to come to Edinburgh. It would be Scotland for I and only I.

How she’d grown. He’d first met her as a rather tall, gawky teenager with impeccable manners and fierce determination. It took her no time at all to become his favorite – her impossible study habits, her will to get it just right, her eagerness to explore the language after others gave up in frustration. She’d even tried to read James Joyce, and he couldn’t do that himself. Lilly the star pupil, the protégé… how proud he was of her.

And then, after all those years, Lilly the woman. No longer gawky, no longer adolescent, no longer a protégé of anything or anybody. Still bright, still determined, and very much a woman – quite a wonderful one. And from the moment he stepped into that tea house, a woman who seemed to want to be with him.

If there was any way she’d come with him… oh, well. He checked his watch. Eleven hours and twenty-three minutes to go. The movie looked vile. He put in his ear buds and turned on the pod. Fate was mocking him – the first piece was that Cesar Franck prelude. He listened to the music and started connecting pieces of it to his memories of Lilly. When he got to the last movement, he started to hear a shrill ringing. It was very familiar – it was Gordon’s “stupid alarm.”

At fourteen, he’d had a particularly dour master at a time when his academic interest was minimal. Numerous times, he’d given an answer or made a comment only to hear, “Well, Mr. Cameron, you should have checked your stupid alarm before you said that.” It got to the point where he’d actually hear an alarm ringing if the answer he was contemplating wasn’t perfectly thought out.

Let’s see… he was leaving a country he loved, a job he loved, and a woman he loved for, what was it? Strong brew, greasy food, and becoming a real estate agent in father’s firm. He was doing this because it was time to grow up; how could you be grown up if you haven’t left your joys and dreams behind? The music swelled and the alarm bell swelled with it.

The music went into the final few minutes, the piano playing the main theme in a soft melancholy voice, a cry in the wilderness. He looked at himself in the glass of the player. Gordon, you missed it. You don’t need to grow up, you already are grown up. You grew up being happy in Japan, in teaching, and with Lilly. That’s who you are. That’s who you want to be. The stupid alarm has been going off for weeks – you just haven’t been listening.

Lilly. He could still see her face when he left Hanako’s for the airport, smiling and pleasant, with a slightly green tinge. Lilly, who only asked that he stay in Japan and do what he loved.

The music finished, and Gordon Cameron put down the player and picked up his laptop. It was time to check the airlines. He needed to book the flight home.

Chapter 10 – Land, Air, and Sea

Land

Rin shrugged off her winter coat. They didn’t see each other all that much anymore, but Emi recognized that shirt as Rin’s best flannel, the one with the fewest paint stains. It was roughly equivalent to another woman putting on an evening gown. Emi thought of it as a mark of affection, and she was probably right. They sat across from each other in the dimly lit lunch place.

“Hmmm. Mutou and your mom. Hmmmm. Oh, okay.”

That’s one of the reasons she’d gone to Hisao first instead of Rin. Rin understood things that nobody else did, but getting her to give you clues to what she saw was very hard. Her friend Rin was the Delphic oracle in a barely bespattered flannel shirt.

Emi sighed. “I hated the whole idea at first. Some of it still bothers me. But he’s nice, and he’s really sweet to my mom. He gets all caught up in the galaxy and atoms and things, but he’s a nice man. Did you know he plays piano? That was what started it – music.”

Rin shrugged. “I can see him sitting at a piano. Yes, that’s a true image.”

“They spend weekends together now. He brings school work and sits at the dining room table while mom practices. And the minute she finishes, he puts away his papers, and walks into the living room, even if he’s in the middle of something.

And he smiles – have you ever seen a basset hound smile? It’s as if the galaxies and electrons don’t exist anymore.”

The ghost of a grin crossed Rin’s face, and then she was serious again. “Oooooooooh. I see.”

Emi fell silent and looked at some invisible item on the table a foot to Rin’s left.

“Emi, did you tell Hisao?”

“I talked to him when I found out. I was still mad then, and he kind of talked me down. I haven’t seen him since. “

“No. I mean did you tell him about the electrons and the practicing and the basset smiles?”

“Uh, no. That’s all been since the last time I saw him.”

“Okay. I just wondered.”

Air

In another ten hours and forty-three minutes, he’d be home. Well, back to Tokyo-Narita, anyway. He’d check the train and connector flights after that, to see which would get him back to the city faster. But then what?

The problem with being stupid about a big thing is that it causes you to be stupid about little things too. When he left, he had seen only Lilly’s smile, wishing him well. Remembering it now, it had been slightly akilter, the eyes not really matching the upturned corners on the lips. The bland assumption that a girl like that would find somebody else quickly became the fear that she would.

And then there was everything else – work permits, finding a place to live, all of the things he was trying to avoid by leaving. Oh and a job. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a job? For that matter, if he was going to stay, wouldn’t it be nice to have a career of some sort?

What do you say to a woman you’ve left? Gordon didn’t know – he’d never had to do it before. Well, he had… ten hours and thirty-eight minutes, plus the travel time from Tokyo-Narita, to figure it out.

Sea

From the mountains behind the city, rivers gather and sweep to the sea. They pass through the city on the way. They were part of the reason the city was there in the first place. Even today, the city has a small port on the sea.
Hisao sat in a café by one of the rivers. An old iron bridge loomed overhead to the left and the moon gave the railings and piers a dull gleam. A dog had been chained to one of the stanchions meant to tie up boats, a golden retriever, perhaps. It stood patiently waiting for its human companion to return. Down the river from the bridge, a gray fog covered the sea.

Hanako sat across from him. He was here on her invitation, and he came, of course, but trying to keep up a conversation with her was still rather difficult. She didn’t seem frightened, like before, but her interests were different from his, and she still preferred to fill time with silences.

“I-I-I invited you here, because I think you can help me with something. Lilly said you helped her, so I thought maybe you could help me. Is that okay?”

“Uh, sure. How is she?” Silently he added, “If you don’t cry. I just feel awful if you start, and that looks exactly like what you are going to do.”

“She’s… She broke up with Gordon. He went back to Scotland, and she feels terrible.”

“I’m sorry, Hanako. What can I do?”

“I feel terrible too. Because it’s all my fault.”

“It’s all your fault that Gordon went back to Scotland and they broke up?”

“No. It’s all my fault that Gordon ever saw her again. Because I invited him to the Shanghai. She always talked about him and I thought it would be nice and now it’s all broken and Lilly is miserable and it’s all my fault.”

“Hmmm. So you knew that they’d turn the meeting into a love affair that would end badly? You didn’t really plan that, did you?”

“No, but she’s still unhappy and that was the last thing I wanted to happen.”

“Oh, of course. I can’t see that, Hanako. You may have arranged the meeting, but Lilly and Gordon took it from there. It’s something like saying that the nurse at Yamaku is responsible for Emi and I breaking up, because he asked Emi to watch over me as I first tried to exercise. You may have arranged the meeting, but they are responsible for what happened after that. Surely Lilly doesn’t blame you for anything.”

“No, but I do.”

“We read a lot, Hanako, you and I. Fiction is easy, because you can manipulate your characters to tidy ends, or maybe untidy ones, depending on what you try to do. Life is harder. Even computer games are harder, like the ones where you build a city. You put things together, and it works out or it doesn’t, depending on how the things you put together react to each other.

It’s easy to feel like you’re responsible for Lilly – there was a time when it would have been easy for Lilly to feel that she was responsible for you. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. You are responsible for you and Lilly is responsible for Lilly. I bet if you talk to Lilly about that, she’ll say the same things.”

Chapter 11 – The Centre Cannot Hold

Gordon felt better than he had any right to feel. Twelve hours to London, four hours bickering with airlines and official of various governments and twelve hours back to Tokyo, plus the flight back to the city. Still, he was in the same time zone he started in, and he had always been able to sleep on planes.

He looked across the street at Hanako’s front door. This was hard, because he didn’t have the faintest idea of what he would say. He couldn’t swear to it, but he thought he heard multiples of the stupid alarm ringing in his ears. Maybe it was just the travel.

Well, Gordon, if you’ve decided that you’ve grown up, start acting like it, he thought. He strode across the street with a sense of purpose. He rapped on the door. There was no answer. Why? She was usually home this time of day… He rapped again. He was about to turn away in utter frustration when it opened. Thank God – it was Lilly.

Her eyes were somewhat puffy as if she’d just been napping, but it was Lilly – the reason he was here.

“Lilly? It’s Gordon.”

He was expecting surprise and he was hoping for delight. Surprise there was, but nothing else.

“Gordon? Why are you here? I thought you’d be in Edinburgh by now.”

“I made it as far as London. Lilly, may I come in? I must speak with you, I simply must.”

She thought about it for a second; another bad sign? “Oh yes, of course, Gordon, please do.”

They sat in the living area, and Gordon poured out his story, leaving out nothing, not even the “stupid alarm”. She nodded and smiled her polite smile, not the smile he was hoping for. Should he tell her the rest? This was no time to stop. He drew a breath and began.

“Lilly, one of the reasons that I had to return was you. Seeing you in the teahouse again was one of the pinnacles of my life, and everything that happened after that, well, it just kept getting better and better. I wouldn’t have invited you to Edinburgh, if that wasn’t true. Edinburgh or here, I wanted you to be my wife. I still do. I know that leaving hurt you, and that was probably the worst part of my blunder, even worse than trying to condemn myself to a life of Edinburgh real estate. I was wrong about me, I was wrong about you, and I was wrong about almost everything else as well. Correcting that is the most important thing for me right now. I hope you can forgive me.”

Lilly shifted uncomfortably. Her face had lost the serene smile and it had been replaced by a thoughtful look, nearly a pout. There was no telling what that meant.

“I don’t know what to say, Gordon. As you planned to make the transitions in your life, so did I. I felt the same way about our time together. I felt like Cinderella after the prince finally arrived. When you decided to leave, it felt like everything had changed back into pumpkins and mice.

When I was feeling the most downcast, I saw an old friend, and a very wise one. He told me that I had returned to Japan for reasons that had nothing to do with you. He was right. He told me to live my life after you left for the reasons I returned. He was right about that as well.

After you left, I realized that feeling like Cinderella was most appropriate. I was living a schoolgirl’s dream, a fantasy in which I played the heroine. It could not last, and indeed, it didn’t. I’m glad I realized that before making any more commitment to you. Right up until the time you left for the plane, I could have fallen back into that fairy tale.

I am not a fairytale princess, nor are you my savior. I thought that I was, and in doing so, I encouraged you to think along those lines as well. I was being completely unreasonable, and I apologize for my childishness.
I have always planned a life with sense and purpose, and that is still my goal. I have now planned my academic course – I must attend college for a semester after the summer break to make up for the semester I missed by moving. I must start looking for positions after graduation – finding a position is difficult at best, let alone halfway through the school year.

Though I’ve been acting like it for the past few months, I’m not a silly schoolgirl. The time we had together was wonderful. But it was based on something that could not last. I regret deeply that I persuaded you that it could, and even more that it was any part of the reason you returned. You are responsible for what has been one of the happiest times of my life, but trying to prolong it would be futile. I’m sorry, Gordon, we must both go beyond my childish dreams and see life as it well and truly is. I thought that was the motivation for coming back to Japan in the first place – to live life well and truly. And then I did this, and worse, I did it to you as well.”

“But…”

“Gordon, I’m feeling a bit ill. I must attend to that. Will you kindly shut the door behind you?” That smooth dismissal was delivered with a downturned expression and knitted eyebrows. He knew he was about to see a Lilly he hadn’t ever seen before, and didn’t want to. The conversation was over.

“Of course.” He gathered his overcoat and stepped out the door. It gave a soft moan as he closed it. Not a bang, but a whimper.

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Fardels
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Re: A Different Future (Parts 1 and 2)

Post by Fardels » Sun Aug 19, 2012 6:14 am

Part Three – The Winter’s Tale

Chapter 12 – The Request


The wind came from the Arctic now. Anything that fell from the sky was solid, or became solid when it arrived. Somebody called it the fallow time, and it is for chipmunks and oak trees. Humans do not have that choice. They encase themselves in layers of warmth, and go about their business. The streets had been recently plowed, and gray mounds of snow and ice lined the streets and sidewalks.

Emi fidgeted, sitting in the back booth of the Star of Assam. Mutou had a reputation for being late, and he was living up to it. He’d left a message that he wanted to meet her, just her. She had been to the Star a few times with Hisao, and suggested that as a meeting place.

They were nice to each other, primarily because they both felt so strongly about her mother. But that’s as far as it went. They weren’t friends, merely amiable acquaintances, and wanted to talk to her privately was a violation of that dividing line. She sighed and looked at her watch again. Another five minutes, and she was out of here.

He showed up with a minute and a half left to the deadline, a parka thrown over his usual jacket, with the usual olive green shirt and black tie. She’d had her science classes with the other teachers, so she really didn’t know him that well. Sometimes the uniform look, wearing the same thing every day, indicated a real personality problem. The people who had Mutou wound up thinking that he was all right, but still…

He started the conversation by saying everything but what he wanted. Emi understood the function of small talk, but his idea of small talk was gamma ray explosions from the dark matter at the heart of the Milky Way. Her smile became impatient and her stare became glassy. Was this the Mutou version of being nervous? Is this how he charmed her mother? Something of her attitude must have been obvious. He abandoned the galaxies and got to the point.

He started with a chuckle. “I have something very difficult to ask of you, and I’m not getting near to it. So I think I’ll just say it. Lynn Harrell is a brilliant American cellist. Your mother loves his music, and he’s doing a Pacific tour next summer.”

She nodded. She’s heard the name from her mom, but didn’t know anything more about him. Okay, what’s the big deal? “I didn’t know that. She’ll be very happy… when will he be in Japan?”

“That’s part of it. He won’t be. He’s going further south – Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, and so forth. I am in the process of buying the best tickets I can find in the Sydney Opera House.”

Well, that is a big deal. “That’s a great idea! She’s travelled all around Japan, and been to Korea once or twice, but she hasn’t seen much outside of that. Australia will be quite an adventure for her.”

“There’s another part of it. We were thinking of the trip… in terms of a honeymoon.”

Emi’s eyes grew wide, and she blinked. Emi and speechless happened less often than Hanako and surprise.

“She will tell you herself, of course, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention that we had this conversation. I felt it was necessary because… because I want you to answer a question.

In the past, when a man wanted to marry a woman, he still asked her father and mother, or maybe a guardian if she had none. It sounds terribly quaint, and it really isn’t necessary anymore, but there is some sense to it. Your mother has no one, no one but you. She’s built her life around you ever since your father’s death. She was quite content to do that, and I think it worked well for both of you. So, if I want to obtain the blessing of her family, it would follow that I get that blessing from you.

I will not ask you for your approval of the marriage – we have decided that it’s what we want to do. But it is extraordinarily important to me that the marriage has your blessing, if that’s possible. It would make me feel better, because it’s obvious that I am intruding on your life. I cannot tell you how much it would mean to your mother. Emi, will this marriage have your blessing?”

Emi looked around the room, as if searching for an escape from the question. Finally, she looked at Mutou, and said “I don’t know.”

“I want to answer you honestly. You deserve that. And the answer is that I don’t know. I need to think about it. You make my mom happy, so it should be real simple. And it’s not. My mom has been an anchor for me and it feels like I’m losing that anchor. My dad and I were close before he died, and sometimes it seems like you are trying to replace him. I know that’s not true, but it feels that way sometimes.

Most of all, I don’t understand why you and my mom are so happy together. Sure, there’s the music, but is that enough? You spend most of your day doing teaching and science, and she has her committees and her practices. What if someday, music isn’t enough?”

“Emi, music isn’t enough right now. Oh, we appreciate music together, but the last time we actually played together was when we first met. Emi, when it comes to music, I can’t even pretend to be on the same level as your mom. She plays with symphonies… I play an old piano in a department store for four nights a week. There’s no comparison.

What we have is a simple will to be together. When the time comes, I put down my books and she puts down her music, and we enjoy each other’s company. We go to the seaside or to that little tearoom by Yamaku or some hillside. We talk to each other about little things that happen or we enjoy a meal. Your mother is a wonderful cook, you know. Even brown rice…and yes, we do enjoy music.

When she plays, it’s rather like Meiko watching one of your races. I marvel at the things she’s accomplished musically. I have watched the time and preparation that went into the piece, and I am astounded that anyone close to me can do the things that she has done. Some of the things she’s said about watching you race describe exactly how I feel about watching her play. I don’t expect her to feel the same way about my music at Shigeta’s – how could I? If we allowed it, music might separate us rather than keep us together.

Long ago, I met a woman at a time when I was trying build myself and my life as I wanted it. So was she. The quest to be something and somebody seemed to be a full-time effort for both of us and we ignored each other to the point that we grew apart. I know who I am and what I am now. So does your mother. I want to share my life with her and she wants to share her life with me. It’s a rather simple concept, but it took me years to see it.

A significant part of that life that she wants to share with me revolves around you. You are away at the university most of the time, but you still have an effect on her, a rather magnetic effect that will last for the rest of your days. I would not interfere with that, and the attempt would be futile even I wanted to. And so here we sit.

We are not friends. I hope we will be someday, but right now, that’s not possible, for just the reasons you mentioned. I don’t know what role I have in your life – maybe I don’t have any. You are at a time when you are building your own life now, and you certainly don’t somebody to try to be your father. But you are extremely important in your mother’s life, and so I ask for your blessing.”

Emi sat back in her chair, sighed, and shook her head. “I see. Yes, I see much better now. But I still have things to work through myself. Please, may I give you your answer at another time? ”

“Of course, Emi. I understand.”

Chapter 13 - The Source of Desire (In Three Movements)

Hisao sat back in his chair, weary but satisfied. His physiology paper was finished. He was fascinated with physics and probably always would be, but biology seemed more personal and applicable. He supposed that it had something to with his weakened heart.

This particular paper was on how the brain produces joy. It turned out that joy requires two different systems in the brain. Wanting something takes one set of circuits and liking something takes another. When the wanting circuits don’t interface with the liking circuits, addictions result – food, drugs, or gambling. When they do work together, they produced sensations that caused a feeling of comfort, which was produced by other still sets of circuits.

He tried to apply that to himself – he almost always did. What did he want? He wanted to get his degree and start his life. The possibility of having his life cut short probably made him more dogged in the pursuit. What did he like? There was great satisfaction in his work and his academic achievements certainly provided him with some measure of comfort, but wasn’t there more to him than that?

When was the last time he really felt good? Hmmm… it was the meeting that didn’t happen, when he’s noticed Lilly on the street. He felt like he’s actually helped, and having Lilly accept help was an achievement of some sort. Having tall blonde women collapse in your arms certainly didn’t hurt, but that wasn’t really the answer.

What about Emi? Indeed, what about her? Okay, he wasn’t sure he wanted her, at least in the sense he once did. They had strayed too far from each other, and he was pretty sure his contribution to that was massive. Did he like Emi? He grinned to himself. That was easy. Even when she dated Shin, she could always make him smile, and watching Emi attack any problem was usually fascinating. And there was certainly a sense of comfort in being with Emi, when they were actually communicating instead of just sitting in the same room.

For a year and a half, they’d acted like considerate ex-lovers, avoiding each other when possible, being polite and cheerful when they couldn’t. If he really liked Emi, how could that produce anything in his brain at all?

He thought back to the night when Emi and Shin broke up – the punctuated equilibrium theory he had tried to console himself with. He expected the change in environment to mystically promote some sort of change in his life, but that isn’t how it works. Organisms flourish when they adapt to the new environment, not when they spend most of their time in labs and behind books. It was time to be a better friend all around – so far, he had only been an occasional dispenser of advice, probably of dubious value.

He had been getting up at the crack of dawn to run, because Emi ran a little later. Would it be so bad to run with Emi again? When was the last time he saw Rin? Was there some sort of legal settlement where Emi got custody of Rin’s friendship? Why didn’t he know more people outside the old Yamaku group, and when was the last time he saw the ones he did know? Maybe it was time to play more attention to the liking area of his brain.

Gordon Cameron, on the other hand, paid attention only to his wants. Wants get massive when you haven’t addressed them for awhile. He had gotten his old tutoring jobs back, and found a place to live. With one great exception, his life was back in place. But that wasn’t good enough anymore.

A stack of forms waited on his desk. The pile on top, when completed, would start him on the path to officially immigrate to Japan. The one underneath that would help him apply to the university. If he was going to be an adult, he’d teach both conversational English and English literature. The university was the only one in the north that had graduate degrees in English. He liked the sound of that… Doctor Gordon Cameron, Professor of English Literature. His grades at Edinburgh had been pretty good – he’d like to give that a try. He’d never want to leave teaching conversational English, not permanently, but a being a professor might leave him some time to do the other things he wanted,. He’d fill out the immigration forms and then poke around the university to see if they had room for the wandering Scot.

What if he ran into Lilly? He didn’t know whether that was a bonus or a drawback. They hadn’t spoken since his bleary-eyed return trip. He wanted to, but that last look, the Lilly, Bringer of Storms look, made it clear that she was not interested in further discussion. Well, there’s no point in being stupid if you don’t learn something from it.

He picked up the first form.

Emi knew what she wanted, she just didn’t know how to get it. She’d called Rin, and gotten that part of it in motion – now she needed money, a nice influx of cash, and she needed it in a month. How does somebody come up with a lump of money in a month? Who would know?

Well, there was work. Aside from the odd indoor meet, there weren’t many track events in the snow months, so she had the time. She could probably find a job in the university bookstore, but that wouldn’t be enough. Somebody must know of something else. Ah. He would know. That ex-boyfriend, the big, dumb, sweet, frustrating one, who disappeared into labs for weeks at a time. She’d have to see if she could talk him into stay on this side of the universe for a few minutes.

Chapter 14 – Track Meet

The track crunched under Hisao’s feet as he walked toward the stands; it always sounded louder in the winter. The air was cold, and his lungs would feel like they were burning for the first lap, but that would go away. Annnd… she’s not here. Wait, there she is. He sidled over to the base of the stands. She saw him coming, and, wow, he hadn’t seen that smile in a while, not on that face. She looked glad to see him. This was a good idea.

“Hisao! Have you decided to run with the big dogs?”

“Sure. Running with the big dogs always made me happy. Can’t understand why I stopped.”

Dammit, he was being sweet again. “Well, we’ll see how ready you are. And then I have a question for you.”

They stretched and then ran. He had been running for years now, but he still couldn’t keep up with Emi. He finished his shorter run well before she did, and had almost cooled off before she walked over. It was the first time he’d seen her that close since the first lap.

Cooling down was pretty easy in the winter months, and they sat in the stands chatting. Hisao was completely content – chatting with Emi was so much nicer than tracking neurons. Maybe he’d finally figured out what to do.

“Hey Hisao, that question… I need some money, fairly quickly. I got a job as a cashier in the bookstore, but I won’t save up quick enough. Is there anything going on in Microscope World that pays well?”

He considered briefly. He had a little extra cash, and he’d be glad to offer it. But no, this was Emi – she wouldn’t accept it. “Um… well maybe. The Bio people don’t have much going on right now, but the Psychology Department is looking for subjects, and the job pays pretty well. It’s only for the immediate future, of course, but it might work for you.”

“Subjects? They’re looking for subjects? Mr. Nakai, do you think I need my head shrunk?”

“Only to a size appropriate to your body. And they don’t really expect it to stay that way.” He tried to duck the inevitable swat. Teasing Emi was fun, because she never expected it from him.

“Humph, I suppose they’ll want me to run around in a maze, like a rat.”

“Only if they’re trying to set a world record in maze running. Maybe you could talk them into letting you use your blades. Seriously, Emi – I really don’t know much about it. Psychology really isn’t my field. I’ve already proven that, no doubt. See what it’s like. It’s only for a little while, and it may get you the cash you want.”

This was wonderful, but it was time to start the day. As they said goodbye, Emi’s face fell into a pout. “Hisao? Are you going to come run with the big dogs tomorrow?”

“Count on it. I’ve missed it for too long.”

He was wrong, but he didn’t know that yet.

After lunch, Hisao wandered into town. After passing the same drugstore three times, he found the address he was looking for. The door led to a flight of stairs, which led to another flight of stairs, and then a door.

He knocked. A familiar voice from the other side yelled “In!” He supposed that meant “come in” so he did. Rin sat in the middle of artistic chaos – canvases, paint splatters, tubes, and brushes. The roof had a skylight, and she sat in the beams that it let into the studio.

She looked up at him and blinked. “Hisao?”

“Hi, Rin. I just came for a visit. What are you doing?” It looked pretty unusual for Rin. For one thing, she was working on paper, not canvas, and for another, her foot held a calligraphy brush instead of a paint brush.

“Oh, a favor. I’m doing a favor.”

They made small talk for awhile, but Rin was even worse at it than Hisao, even if they were both better at it than in high school. Suddenly Rin put down her brush, and stood. “Hisao? Have you seen Emi?”

“Yeah! I saw her just this morning. I think we’re going to start to run together again.”

“Uh-hunh. Did she tell you about the basset hound?

“Um, no Rin. What about the basset hound?”

As best she could, Rin recounted Emi’s story about seeing her mom and Mutou at ease with each other. He understood the story, he guessed, but he wasn’t sure what it was supposed to mean. It probably meant something important, or Rin wouldn’t go to the trouble of telling him about it. What that might be would take some thought and effort to work out.

He left the studio as the sun began its descent to the horizon. It had been a good day. His fragile old heart was lighter than it had been for a long time.

Chapter 15 – Environmental Change

The city averages about a foot of snow every month of the winter, but averages can’t really predict specific events. A cold front boiled out of the arctic and swept down toward northern Japan, and when it reached there, it absorbed warm moisture from the Japanese version of the Gulf Stream. Cold fronts do that pretty commonly, but this one edged toward the city and stopped just over it. The moisture crystallized and began to fall, and the storm continued to draw moisture from the sea currents. As long as it stood still, the front would continue to pump moisture from the sea, condense it, and drop the resulting flakes on the city.

Gordon Cameron reached the university as the first few flakes fell. It didn’t look good, but today would be the only day he could make it here and he had an appointment with the assistant dean. The assistant dean turned out to be a harried woman only a bit older than Gordon. Her field was apparently contemporary British literature, starting with World War I. No problem there – Gordon had grown up with most of that. After a lengthy discussion of the authentic linguistic roots of Lord of the Rings, they went over his qualifications. The time he spent in Japan had served him well – they were impressed than he with his certificate for teaching English as a foreign language and his hands on experience in tutoring.

Having a definite plan for the future seemed to help, and his stated determination to stay in Japan seemed to help more. After her, he was passed to an older professor (Jacobean poetry), some sort of administrator (American literature from Steinbeck to Kesey) and another professor (Swift and Steele and the Restoration writers). This was apparently the vetting committee for hot prospects. The last stop was the dean’s secretary, and he knew academic institutions well enough to pay closer attention to her than anyone else. This was the person who could make or break him, both now and if he were admitted.

He walked toward the entrance feeling pretty good about the day. He had taken the time and effort to listen to everyone and had tried to impress them with his ambition to teach in Japan. He thought he’d been pretty successful.

When he reached the entrance, he thought of the old comedy line, “inside every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud”. The snow was knee deep, and showed no signs of stopping. He was stuck here until the plows came through.

Let’s see. If you are stuck in a university, where to you go to stay comfortable? Student lounge? No, everyone would think of that. Aha – library. If he got there before the student lounges overflowed, he could occupy a comfortable corner for the duration. The library stood across the green and to the right. Getting there wouldn’t be fun, but trying to doze at a desk here would be worse.

Gordon reached the library with a minimum of effort, but found that much of the space was already occupied. He found one of the few remaining comfortable chairs on the ground floor, next to Nonfiction – Science and Mathematics.

If you have something on your mind, he thought, the library in a snowstorm would be the place to reflect on it. If you’ve done your best, you allow the contentment to wash over you. With a little grin, he closed his eyes.
It seemed like only seconds before the voice shredded his slumber. “Excuse me, Gordon Cameron, is that you?"

He looked up at… Katsuhiko something. His family was to visit the US and came to Gordon for conversational help. Nice kid, well read in English, but had trouble with pronunciation. “Ah, Katsuhiko. How are you?”

“I’m fine, Gordon. What are you doing here, teaching?”

“I’m hoping to be a student again, Katsuhiko. I want to get a graduate degree, so I can teach one day. How about you?”

“It’s my last year here. I want to go to the US again, and maybe do translations after I get back. I’m majoring in English, you know.”

“Ah, well, going to the US should be a lot of fun, and you should do a good job with the translations. Nice to see a familiar face. I’ll be in the English Department too.”

Katsuhiko grinned widely. “Hey, if you’re going to be around here, would you like to get in on a sporting proposition? An awful lot of the English major guys are in, including quite a few graduate students.”

“Um, an English Department lottery? That’s different.”

“Yeah. Here’s how it goes. This girl transferred in at the beginning of the term. Tall, beautiful, blonde, you know, the full package. The thing is, she’s blind and sort of friendly but kind of stand-offish too. So the first guy who dates her wins the pot. We’re up to an obscene amount of money.”

Oh, dear God.

“Ah, Katsuhiko, sit over here for a moment. I have some more information for you.”

Katsuhiko grinned again and sat by the chair. “More data? Terrific. What do you know?”

“To start with, I’ve already won your pool. I dated Lilly before she came here. Second, if all you see is a blind babe, you’re being a bit short-sighted yourself. If she’s a pain in the ass to get to know well, knowing her is worth that effort, and that’s if you date her or not. The third thing is, however big the pool is, it isn’t big enough. She’s worth more than that. Fourth, she sees a whole lot more than anybody thinks she does. You’re not dealing with some broken reed. She can tell more from hearing footsteps than you can from actually looking at somebody. Whoever buys a chance better be sure he’s in for the right reason, and the money isn’t the right reason.

If that sounds like I still have feelings, maybe I do. But your lucky winner is going to spend an evening with a fully functioning, very determined, and quite formidable person, sighted or not. They’d better be ready for that. I think I’ll pass on the pool.”

“Um, okay. See you, Gordon.” Katsuhiko retreated in some disorder.

Well, so much for sleep. Gordon heard the rumble of the plows in the parking lot; maybe he could get out now. He rose from his chair and as he turned to leave, he glanced across the row of books on the third shelf behind him and saw a face looking up at him – a sad, stunned, mournful face, half covered by hair.

Oh dear God again. It’s Hanako.

They stared silently at each other for several seconds. Had she heard? How could she not have heard? Finally he broke the silence in a soft voice. “Hanako, you will mention that conversation, won’t you?”

“W-wh-why don’t you tell her yourself?’

“Because in her mind, I am travelled trash. She’d suspect that I was trying to be a hero or something. I have no credibility, and I’d just have my motives questioned for bringing it up. I was stupid, but I never was malignant, and I won’t have that, not even from her. What I think doesn’t matter anyway. She needs to know that she’s become a street fair game for the lesser lights here. I doubt she’d actually consider any of them, but it’s useful knowledge. If you can work it in, give her my fondest regards, will you?” He turned on his heel and walked slowly in the opposite direction.

Gordon was exasperated; exasperated people are neither polite nor analytical. Had he been more polite, he would have walked over to Hanako’s aisle to have the conversation. Had he been analytical, he might have questioned why Hanako was in the university library in the first place and investigated further. Either way, he might have seen a stunned look on quite a different face, and a single tear fall from a blue eye onto the handle of a cane.

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YourFavAnon
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Re: A Different Future (Parts 1 through 3)

Post by YourFavAnon » Sun Aug 19, 2012 8:43 am

I'm actually enjoying this one. A bit strange in terms of flow while reading on occasion, but that's really my only complaint so far.
I write things occasionally.

Dumps of my 35+ fics can be found here and here (including some non-KS stuff).

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Mirage_GSM
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Re: A Different Future (Parts 1 through 3)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Sun Aug 19, 2012 3:10 pm

Hisao wrote:Psychology really isn’t my field. I’ve already proven that, no doubt.
Actually... The way he acted in this story so far he might have a very bright future in psychology.
On second thought, so would Mutou, Lilly and Emi. In fact they read like more or less the same psychologist speaking from different perspectives...
If one is able to ignore that, this is quite an interesting story. In the beginning I thought it would be pretty straightforward, but you surprised me in a positive way.

Oh, and you might consider using some kind of indication when you switch from one scene to another. That threw me a few times when reading this chapter.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Fardels
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Re: A Different Future (Parts 1 through 3)

Post by Fardels » Sun Aug 19, 2012 4:46 pm

For YFA:
The flow probably is off in places. There are three major story threads and sometimes they seemed to get knotted. I had to take time off here and there to untangle them. That probably shows. I don't generally thread stories and probably need more practice.

For Mirage_GSM:
Hadn't realized that. Each of those characters suffers from major bouts of introspection, and sometimes vocalizes it defensively. Might put a warning label on the next version - Do Not Try This At Home. Author has no cred in psychology. Author has no guiding philosophy of life, other than "Life is shaped like a (n American) football - it ain't round and it bounces funny" (Billy Clyde Puckett) and perhaps "Everybody wanna do the horizontal bop" (Bob Segar). You are quite right about scenes within chapters - I tried a number of delineations and wound up doing nothing. Wrong answer.

Part 4 upcoming soon, after I decide whether Mutou gets pregnant or not.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

PT

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Fardels
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Re: A Different Future (Parts 1 through 3)

Post by Fardels » Mon Aug 20, 2012 7:44 am

Part 4 – Global Warming

Chapter 16 – Lost and Found


Having delivered enough snow to raise the average for the year by several inches, the weather smiled on the city. The sun shined for an unusual number of days in a row, and if the temperatures weren’t particularly warm, the frigid days that accompany sunny weather didn’t occur either.

Most of the students enjoyed the weather and just hoped it would remain until Carnival. Carnival was a tradition here now – previous generations of students had decided to adopt the western Carnival simply as a way to blow off steam in early February. Carnival at the university couldn’t compare to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, if only because of the difference in temperature. But it was a chance to dress up in costumes and dance in the streets, and nobody was trying to be competitive anyway. There are worse ideas for February.

LOST: Hisao was far less enchanted than most. The track still had inches of snow on it and was unusable. The brilliant sun melted it all too slowly. That meant no morning run and no Emi. He tried a number of times to reach her and got no answer. He supposed she was tied up with the Psych people; she had a habit of focusing on one goal and clearing her life of most other things until it was accomplished. Still, having her in his life once more was important. He grumbled at his desk like a basset hound worrying a bone. There was that too - he thought he knew what Rin was trying to say. She picked the strangest ways to give advice.

LOST: Lilly did not disappear, but she wasn’t really there either. She was the same Lilly on the surface, smiling and confident, but she withdrew from conversations and activities more quickly and more frequently now. Nobody here knew her well enough to notice, but she was distracted, as if she were making a decision. Hanako would have noticed, but she was in Tokyo on assignment – some political conference that might drag on for days. Hisao might have noticed, but he was too deep in Emi-withdrawal to contact her.

LOST: Gordon disappeared completely, except for occasional visits to the admissions office and the Dean’s secretary. Katsuhiko looked for him, trying to issue an abject apology. He’d have to wait.

FOUND: Minoru Mutou remained quite evident, especially at Shigeta’s. He played Scott Joplin more frequently now and the rest of his repertoire was more upbeat. His birthday was just before Carnival and this one would be worth celebrating. But wasn’t that Emi heading over to the other side of the store? He couldn’t tell. He hadn’t heard from Emi yet and hoped he would.

FOUND: Meiko Ibarazaki was pretty obvious too. She seemed to flash across the sky like a brilliant comet, her happiness infecting almost everyone she met. Every time they met, Hikari Nomura felt a little glow of satisfaction, and Meiko seemed to appear at Yamaku much more often now.

FOUND: Emi looked critically at the contents of the rather large rectangular box. They had done it just as Rin had designed it, so it was worth the price, she supposed. But psych people, which side of the glass did they really belong on anyway? When you deprive people of sleep, they stay sleepy and do things like bump into walls. That’s common sense, not science. Measuring how sleepy seemed a waste of time. Still, it got her the money she needed, and this was the result.

Chapter 17-Home Cooking

The cell phone rang just after Hisao dozed off. He grabbed it and flipped it to it ear rapidly. “Hisao here…”

“Is this the pervert who’s been blowing up my phone for days?” The question was followed by an infectious giggle.

“Emi! Where have you been?”

“I had something I had to do. I’ve been spending a lot of time with your psychology friends. Who comes up with those ideas anyway?”

“Dunno. That’s never been my field.”

“Hisao, have you been running?”

“Ha! I may be a lab rat, but I’m not a sled dog. But the track looks pretty good for tomorrow morning…”

“You better be there. You have a lot of catching up to do.”

“I’d better be,” he agreed. “I’ve missed you, not to belabor the obvious.”

“Actually, you have a second opportunity tomorrow. Mutou’s birthday is tomorrow, did you know that? My mom invited me home for a birthday dinner, and I don’t want to go alone. It’s a big opportunity for you. Home cooking and my company.”

“Of course I’ll come. Are you doing okay? The Mutou situation, I mean.”

“I have some loose ends to tie up, but I’m pretty good, yeah.”

The track was awful, but it was usable, and Emi was right – he had some catching up to do. Emi seemed to have far less. They sat in the stands for quite a while after that, and it seemed like the old days. He thought she felt it too. It had been forever since she was that animated.

She was a good deal quieter in the evening, still happy, but a little withdrawn. Her mom had outdone herself in the kitchen, and he saw the basset smile pretty consistently. The domestic Mutou was not that different from the classroom Mutou, just more of a participant and less of a teacher. The difference was small but significant. He and Mutou chatted about physics while Emi and her mom were in the kitchen, but that was the last he heard of quarks and leptons.

After the meal, they sat quietly at the table. Emi fell quiet for a moment, left the table, and returned with the box she had carted from the university. “I want you to have this,” she stated emphatically. “When I showed it to my friend Rin, she said it wasn’t just a present, it was a future. But she says things like that.”

Mutou took the box, a white thin cardboard one with Shigeta’s logo stamped in gold on the front. Aha, that was Emi he saw. He opened it, and unfolded a dark blue silk robe with a black tuxedo collar and a black tie at the waist. On the front, over the heart, they had embroidered the kanji character for harmony, and beside it, the phrase “My blessing”.

Mutou always looked a little stunned, so it was hard to tell how he felt at first. He solved that problem by rising from his chair, stepping toward Emi, and giving her as big a hug he had ever given anyone. She clung to him as well. When a man of Mutou’s height hugs a woman of Emi’s, his arms wrap around the bottom of her skull. An awkward hug then, but nobody seemed to care. Meiko Ibarazaki just beamed – Emi’s smile was a family trait, it seemed.

The rest of the evening passed in light chatter and warmth. After the trip home, Hisao and Emi stood in front of her dorm. He took a deep breath and clasped her hand and squeezed it, just like in the old days. Her face froze for a moment, and then lit up again, and she squeezed back.

“Emi, do you know what we never did, back in the old days?”

She smiled somewhat wickedly. “I can’t think of anything we didn’t do back in the old days. Including some things I don’t want to do again.” Oh, the equipment shed.

He stifled a laugh and almost lost his train of thought. “No, that’s not what I meant.

We never ran away to be pirates. We never found a college with a major in pillaging. We never sailed the seven seas. That’s my fault, and I want to fix it.”

She considered a moment. “I don’t know Hisao. This really isn’t pirate weather… You might freeze your cutlass off. I don’t want that.”

“Oh, listen to you be practical. You’ve been hanging around lab rats for too long. Okay, we’ll save the seven seas for another time. I was trying to decide what to wear for Carnival, and I thought that I’d use a pirate costume. But it wouldn’t be any fun without another pirate, and it has to be the right pirate. Emi, will you be my pirate?”

“Hmmm, and I suppose you get to be the captain and I’m going to be the first mate?”

Hisao grinned a most unusual grin for him. “Well, we could decide that the way real pirates did. We could wrestle for it.”

“Step this way, matey. We’ll see if you learned anything since the last match.”

“Okay. Though I wouldn’t be unhappy if this match ended the way the last one did.”

Emi hesitated for a moment. “Hisao? Pirates don’t go anywhere without each other, remember? They don’t just leave by themselves, not even into their own heads.”

“You’re right. Smart ones don’t anyway. Sometimes you just have to spend time alone on a desert island to get a little smarter.”

She pulled him toward the door. “Now, about that captain contest…”

Chapter 18 – Don’t Bother, They’re Here

Gordon took a moment to feel good about himself, something he hadn’t done in a while. The tutoring business was booming, and at this rate he’d have enough money to pay for his graduate degrees, which started after summer break. The apartment was pretty large, if somewhat shabby, and it was close enough to the university that he could walk to classes if he had to. He had control of his life, a life he had built by himself.

They weren’t impressed in Edinburgh, of course. His father openly laughed at him for “taking a loony expensive round trip for a lass who dumped you the minute you got back.” His father had never really understood about Japan anyway. But they had started to accept it, and it was only a matter of time.

Now what? There was the whole matter of companionship, of course. He had been too busy with immigrating, teaching and setting up his life to deal with that. Lilly was gone of course, but he still dealt with the memories, and they rankled.

Had enough time passed to wipe the slate clean – could he move on? Maybe so. You move on by taking one step at a time. It was time to get back into circulation.

The university Carnival was this weekend. Maybe he’d put on the old Cameron kilt and go. He had the entire outfit, the sporran and the socks. The tam with the great red tuft of red wool at the center…

The phone rang. He left it on the hook. “Hello, this is Gordon Cameron at Cameron Tutorial. I’m either away or busy right now, but at the beep, leave a message…”

Beep.

“Gordon? This is Lilly. Are you there?”

Oh no, I’m not doing this. He stayed in place, glaring at the phone. The message machine can take that one, thank you very much.

“Gordon, if you’re there, please pick up.” She sounded sad. “Very well. If you get this message, please return my call. It’s important to m…”

“Hello, Lilly? It’s Gordon.” Damn you, Gordon Cameron, for the idiot that you are. If only she didn’t sound so down…

“I’m so glad you’re there, Gordon. I was afraid I’d missed you.”

“Oh, I’m here. What can I do for you, Lilly?”

“I’m considering a purchase, and I need someone, well, I need you to tell me if I’m doing the right thing. I have something to show you. Is there any possibility you could visit us?”

“Aw, Lilly, I don’t think that’s such a good…”

“Please, Gordon. Please. As a personal favor?”

Silence. It was probably that second “please” that changed his mind. “Um, okay. Sure. When would you like me to visit?”

“When are you available? Soon?”

Yes, let’s get this over with. “Hmmm, in two hours?”

“Yes. That would work very well indeed. In two hours, then.”

He stood across the street, in the same spot where he’d left the taxi from the airport. He looked at the doorway grimly. It was rather like one of the Titanic’s survivors revisiting the iceberg. Still, he said he’d be here, and he was. He shuffled to the door and knocked.

A harried Hanako answered and let him in. Hanako’s face usually showed what she was feeling. Not this time; rather, first she’d seem amused, then sad, then happy, then just plain apprehensive. What on earth could all of that mean?
She invited him to sit in the living area, and stood in front of him. “Lilly wanted to show you… her Carnival costume. I have to help her with her makeup. Can you wait for just a minute?” Gordon nodded and Hanako rushed back to Lilly’s bedroom.

Is that why he was here – a Carnival costume? That didn’t make any sense. On the other hand, it might keep the conversation away from the things that Gordon didn’t want to talk about.

The bedroom door opened, and something white came floating toward him in slow steady steps. It jingled slightly. It was Lilly. Well, the hair was Lilly’s, but the rest…

Not the sensible shoes, but some sort of purple slipper, with big floppy pointed toes that curved back towards her, each with a bell on the end. White leggings, skin-tight. A white skirt that barely made it to mid-thigh. The blouse, if that’s what it was, covered with large purple diamonds on a white background. The thick white makeup – no, that’s greasepaint, with narrow black triangles above and below the eyes. The carefully painted tear dropping from the left eye. The hat, made of three purple cones that drooped uncertainly around her head, each with a bell to match the ones on the shoes.
Lilly as a clown. Lilly as the harlequin.

Gordon simply stared. Hanako shifted her gaze from Gordon to Lilly and back. Lilly stood there and smiled, somewhat uncertainly for her. Finally she broke the silence. “I am considering wearing this to Carnival. What do you think, Gordon?” Please be frank.”

“Well, it’s a stunning costume, and you look absolutely beautiful in it. Quite fetching. Since you are interested in my peculiar opinion…

I hate it. I hate every square centimeter of it.

Lilly as a clown? Lilly as some anonymous doll, with greasepaint so thick you can’t tell who’s beneath it? Lilly with bells on, as if you needed any prompting to look at her?

The Lilly I thought I knew came from within. She didn’t need any of that. I see the legs and they’re bonny legs, but where’s the heart and the grit and the brain? They can’t get through that costume.” He was on his feet, pacing.

“The last time I was here, you accused me of thinking of you as Cinderella. I never did, not for a moment. I know you too well and while we’re on it, I know myself too well to think of myself as either Prince or Charming. And now I’m to think of you as a harlequin, and I can’t do that either.” He shook his head sadly.

Hanako interrupted him. “I’msorryIgottagodosomething.” She fled out the door, snatching her purse as she ran. Was that just a hint of a smile on her face as she ran?

Left to his own devices, Gordon would have emoted for another fifteen minutes. Hanako’s departure gave him a moment to gain perspective.

“Ahhh, I’m being a fool again. It’s a costume, not a way of life. The tutor – wind him up and he’ll tell you everything except the answer to your question. It’s a fine costume, Lilly. Wear it and you will excite the admiration of every man who sees you. I take myself quite seriously sometimes.”

Lilly’s face showed great concentration. If she could stare, she’d be staring. “Are you certain, Gordon? Or were you just taking me seriously?”

“I can’t seem to break that habit, Lilly. I’ve taken you seriously from the day I met you. In different ways, of course. Too involved, I’m just too involved.”

“Do you suppose… do you suppose that two people who were once in love can be in love again?”

“Highly unlikely, Lilly. But speaking just for myself, if the love never died…” He shrugged as if she could see him. For all he knew, she could hear shrugs.

She blinked, and her face moved from concentration to sadness. “I chose this costume because I was feeling utterly foolish, as if everything I did was worthy of laughter and contempt. I’ve been quite dense.”

“You’re too good a student, Lilly. Your old tutor plays the fool, and you feel you have to follow suit. If I was stupid, I wasn’t crazy enough to stop taking you seriously.”

“If that is the case, I believe that I will not wear this costume to Carnival after all. Perhaps I wasn’t considering it as strongly as I once thought.”

“Do you suppose you could change back into Lilly again? The costume, much as I hate it, makes me feel a wee… uncomfortable.”

“And so I shall. But Hanako left, and may not be back for some time. Will you help me with that transformation?”

Chapter 19 - Right Now

The hat and shoes were gone as soon as they entered the bedroom. She took the blouse and the skirt off, but the leggings were really an opaque body stocking, full length, extending to the wrists, neck, and ankles. It had a zipper that extended down to the small of her back. “The zipper, Gordon?” she whispered softly. She turned her back and pulled aside her hair. The body suit covered her, yet hid absolutely nothing.

He gently pulled the zipper all the way down, slid in front of her, and removed the top half of the material, tugging a little bit to get the arms past her hands. Then he knelt to remove the bottom half, helping her step out of the legs one foot at a time. Almost there – this was almost the Lilly he knew.

The last part was the greasepaint. That was a problem. It would take at least twenty minutes to get rid of that muck, and that was about forty times longer than he could stand to spend on it.

He rose and she put her hands to his shoulders, grasping the top of them once she found them. “The makeup – is it so hideous that we must remove it right away?

“Ah, well. I was wondering the same thing. Will you swear to me that it’s actually Lilly underneath all of that?

“I do so affirm and attest. The most convincing thing I can do is to act like Lilly at this point.”

“Yes, Lilly, please. Please be Lilly. Don’t be anyone else ever again. Don’t ever suspect me of wanted you to act otherwise. I don’t, I won’t, and I can’t.” He might have said more, but her arms looped around his neck and she pulled his head to hers. The stuff on her lips was lipstick and not nearly as foul tasting as the greasepaint, as he found out shortly.

With her arms wrapped tightly around his neck, he stooped slightly and cradled her knees with his arm and lifted her from the floor. She groaned softly and then giggled. “I wonder how many other men can do that, at my height.”

“I pledge to make sure that they never get the opportunity.”

He bent slightly to kiss her again, and as he did, she brushed her chest softly against his. Then they were on the bed, and this Lilly was Lilly, Cinderella, and the harlequin all wrapped into one, or maybe by turns. By the time they rested, he was pretty well smeared with greasepaint as well. What do you use to remove greasepaint? He hoped it didn’t sting.

All of this, starting with the costume, this was a side of Lilly he had never seen. There was a whole lot more to this woman than he ever expected, and he intended to find out every bit of it.

They were talking softly when Hanako returned, and hearing the low muffled conversation, she gave herself a full, satisfied smile, based on thoughts that Hikari Nomura would recognize had she been privy to them. Hanako had eaten out, gone to a movie, and been to the Star of Assam. She picked up the jester’s hat from in front of the closed door and put it on the low cabinet.

Lilly found herself doing an autobiography – a little of the Yamaku years, and more of the Scotland years, the time in Inverness and the university in Aberdeen. The feeling of not only being sightless, but being foreign. Making friends, but always feeling apart. The University was a splendid school, but she never lost her loneliness, especially being separated from her sister, who had a very time-consuming job. Deciding that she wanted to come back, and her father’s resolute opposition to the idea. His cutting her allowance as a tool to persuade her to come back, even after she’d left. Hanako letting Lilly stay on in her place. Her sister wiring her a large amount of money and confronting the old man like an avenging angel.

Gordon sighed. “Not a minute of stability, and then your daft boyfriend decides to try to take you back to a place you don’t like. Ah, no wonder. Then after you’ve got your life sorted out, he shows up again, and says he’s staying after all.

It’s all so clear now. Are you sure you want to be around somebody like that?”

She rubbed his shoulder with her head. “Yes, I think so. I haven’t shown any great perception myself. Once you asked me a very important question, Gordon, and I never really answered it. Here is your answer. I would share my life with you, and I would have you share yours with me. But my life still belongs to me as yours does to you. That may be inconvenient at times. I will teach English, and I will do so in Japan, for example. That authentic Lilly that you asked for may not always be the easiest to live with.”

“You were never put here for my convenience, Lilly. But if we get inconvenient for each other, we need to work on it together.”

“Mmmmm.” It was almost like a purr. “Oh, I almost forgot. How much did you win?”

“What?”

“The pool. How much did you win?”

“What? Didn’t Hanako tell you? I refused any part of it. Those grimy little boys and their money, it’s probably diseased. Besides, technically, since the contest began, I haven’t dated you – I’ve only witnessed a fashion show.”

Lilly’s face merely changed into a coy little smile. When she fell asleep, she slept clinging tightly to his chest. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chapter 20 – Again

Hisao considered his options. He was losing the captaincy contest two to one, and only took it once because he found a ticklish spot. And Emi was looking up at him with narrowed eyes, daring him to make it three of five. Unless he developed a different set of chromosomes and did it quickly, his cause was lost. She would wear the tricorner hat with the gold trim, and he would wrap the bandana around his head. For such a loser, he was outrageously happy. He was back with Emi.

He moved his right shoulder slightly, only to have it pinned firmly to the bed.

“I saw that, you sneaky scientist. What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m stealthily being happy, happier than I’ve ever been.”

“Even happier than before we broke up?”

“Yeah, I think so. The difference isn’t in you, it’s in me. You haven’t changed much at all, besides switching out the twin tails for the ponytail. I’ve changed a whole lot. I know me better now, and maybe I know you a little better too. The one thing I’m sure of is that I’ll have to train harder if I ever want to be the captain.”

“Don’t change too much, okay? “

“No, don’t worry about that. I meant I have a better sense of who I am and where I’m going. I like that. And I know who I want to go with me. I really like that.”

“And what makes you so sure I want to go with you?”

“Nothing. I can only hope. Maybe at one time, I took that for granted. I won’t do that again. I know what the consequences are now.”

“Maybe you’re half as smart as you think, Mr. Nakai. You’re sounding more intelligent all of the time.” She reached across him for the window shade and pulled it down further.

“Mmmph. I know something else too. Unless you get your right breast out of my face, I’m going to kiss it unmercifully. Arrr. Pirates, you know?”

“Bah. Big talk, mister scientist. Got anything to back it up?”

So he was as merciless as he promised. But the score was still three to one after the last match.

Chapter 21 – Still

When she opened the bathroom door, she was framed in the light of the smaller room, looking from the darkness of the larger one. He promised himself not to miss a second of the sight. She poked him as she slipped beside him.

“How can you look at me like that?”

“Well, to start, you’re naked. How can I not?”

She chuckled. “Oh come on, it’s not like I’m young, like Emi. I’m rather, um, saggy.”

“Not really. I know what saggy looks like. I see it in the mirror every morning. You are merely rounded, and beautifully so. No, no. I’m an expert on saggy. You win no prize there.”

“But don’t you want…”

“I don’t want anything. Tomorrow, you will kiss me goodbye as I leave for school. When I come home, you will be practicing, Bach perhaps. You will tell me about your day, and I will tell you about mine. You will probably have cooked something delicious, even with that revolting brown stuff, and we will sit contentedly until it is time to sleep. I want for nothing. Each of those things will make my heart sing. If you have found some way to be younger, that would be all right I guess, but don’t lose anything that you already are.”

She was actually blushing. Then she smiled brightly. “Will you please provide the scientific basis for the singing heart?”

“Mmmm. Causation: the smile I’m seeing right now. Symptoms: a feeling of well-being, euphoria, but well-founded euphoria, mixed with some more fundamental feelings of desire, at least now. Course: unknown – it hasn’t run its course yet. Prognosis: This is a hopeless case. I might just as well keep on listening to the singing. We will go, you and I, to see if there are any antidotes in Australia. But I can’t see myself looking that diligently. Ahhh, what are you doing?”

“Providing additional causation. I want to see if your aorta knows any opera.”

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griffon8
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Re: A Different Future (Parts 1 through 4)

Post by griffon8 » Mon Aug 20, 2012 3:20 pm

Well that was all very sweet. Not so much that I'd get diabetes, but still.

One little correction, and I just realized that it contributed to some early confusion I had with your story: Mutou's first name is Akio, as shown here.
I found out about Katawa Shoujo through the forums of Misfile. There, I am the editor of Misfiled Dreams.

Completed: 100%, including bonus picture. Shizune>Emi>Lilly>Hanako>Rin

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Oddball
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Re: A Different Future (Parts 1 through 4)

Post by Oddball » Tue Aug 21, 2012 2:32 pm

Well, it's a nice story, it actually feels like three nice stories, and the characters seem well thought out, but at the same time the whole thing feels far too neat and wraps up too easily.

The story runs three parallel romances and they all seem to work out perfectly fine and in similar ways without ever really crossing over into each other as expected. Hisao's romance never really has any effect on what's going on with Lilly's, Lilly's doesn't effect Muto's, etc etc. Some of the characters meet, most don't. It just makes me wonder why this was presented as a single story to begin with.

Rin also just sort of felt like blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos rather than anything majorly important. Likewise, Hanako never really had that strong of a prescence in the story despite the fact that Hanako really had a lot to do with getting things started.

Don't get me wrong, for what it was, it was nice, I just don't quite get what you were going for in this story.
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Mirage_GSM
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Re: A Different Future (Parts 1 through 4)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Tue Aug 21, 2012 4:26 pm

I found that the stories meshed very well with each other.
I don't see why the romances have to "effect" each other. We have three different stories, yes, but I found it interesting to see how they interconnect at times.
And Rin and Hanako were nothing more than side characters in this story - more prominent than Meiko's friend or Shin but not really important to the story, so I'm okay with their roles being small.

I do agree, though, that the resolutions of all the conflicts was a bit sudden.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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