The build-up is going somewhere, I assure you, but I don't blame you if it feels like it's going painfully slow at this point. Lots of ways I can improve as far as lengthy storytelling goes, I'm sure.
Act 3 - Part 6: Deus Ex
“I'll just need you to sign here.” Says the woman on the other of the counter, clad in a white work shirt and a baseball cap.
There has got to be some way this isn't allowed. Can we say our postal system is so secure if anyone can just walk into the office and sign off on someone else's mail?
I at least make an attempt to forge a signature, writing 'Kenji Setou' into the blank space rather than my own name. Knowing how often they check these records, however, I'm sure I could have signed as 'Ford Prefect' or any one of a dozen fictional characters and they'd be none the wiser.
At least it feels like a short day. School passed without incident, although Hanako only showed up for the latter half of the day. She was about as talkative as usual, which is to say not at all, but I was still able to speak to her a bit after class.
How convenient is it that the Satou sisters get back after school tomorrow? I still haven’t come up with anything to give Akira as a welcome-back gift, though. It doesn’t help that I’ve always been terrible with giving presents.
The package, which turns out to be about the size of a miniature refrigerator as I expected, is pushed onto the counter before me. I brace myself as I wrap my arms around it and lift, but then as if to insult my expectations; it turns out to be lighter than my bookbag.
Even worse is the fact that all the weight is concentrated at the middle. It's like the only box they had lying around was something for old televisions. I'll bet it's something that could have easily just been wrapped, like textbooks.
I maneuver my hands around the big brown package before backpedaling out of the post office, choosing to head straight to the school rather than stop by the Shanghai. My growling stomach chides me for such a thing, but it's probably better for everyone that I don't try to bring such a sizable box into a cafe.
Even if I did decide to take a snack break, I’d be too distracted by my curiosity. Kenji doesn’t seem like he’s big into books, so I doubt it’s anything like that. Knowing him, it might be something absurd, like a bunch of action figures.
Now, I understand that I have no right to peek into his privacy; in fact, the less I know about his private life, the better off I'm sure I'll be. But still; is it wrong to wonder what’s inside?
What if it's something dangerous? Like explosives or caustic materials? What if he's planning some kind of 'infiltration' and he's going to use acid to burn a hole in the roof of the female dorm?
Or if it's a grappling hook? It’s not hard to imagine what kind of danger would be roaming the streets if someone like him had such a thing. I'm not sure if he has the physical strength to handle something like that, but I wouldn't exactly be surprised considering how easily he laughs off hangovers.
Comic books seem like the best possibility; maybe DVDs or even videotapes. There would have to be a lot of stuff in here for all that weight, though.
I remember him saying something about it being 'for a rainy day.' Considering that he got the whiskey for our 'manly picnic' from his parents, this could be something of that nature as well.
I trudge through town with Kenji’s mail in tow, having to shift it around in order to carry it up the hill to Yamaku. The ground beneath my feet gets steeper with each step, making it more difficult just to maintain a stride.
Rather than continue running my thoughts into the ground with all this baseless speculation, I focus on making it to the top of the hill and, from that point onward, delivering the box. Maybe as a reward Kenji will let me SEE WHAT'S INSIDE OF I-
My daily test of patience arrives in the form of a phone call as something in my pocket begins to vibrate and buzz. I attempt to lay the box on the ground in a gentle fashion, but decide to let it drop after my phone rings for the third time. Before I can answer it, however, Kenji's mail hits the concrete with just enough momentum to roll a single time, which, in turn, causes it to slide and tumble all the way down the hill.
“Hello?” I answer, making sure to keep an eye on the brown package as it ruins my day more and more with each passing second.
“Hey, Hisao Nakai?” the speaker greets, sounding as though he were in a hurry.
“Yes. This is h-”
“First try. Awesome. Hey, are you open tomorrow? Around four-ish?”
“Uh, depends. What's this for?”
“Oh, sorry, man. This is Kenji Setou, I'm the Assistant Head of R&D. You've already talked to Mr. Shuugetsu, right? We like your stuff. I've got time for orientation and some paper signing tomorrow if you wanna go ahead and get started early.”
It's got that distinct similarity to the Kenji I know, though the voice sounds deeper, almost a little gruff. They both have that rushed manner of speaking, as well.
Before I can respond to his statement, he adds “well, I say we liked your stuff, but it also has to do with the fact that no one else applied.”
“I'm glad you enjoyed my interview. So I should come in tomorrow at four, then?” I respond.
Four is a bad time for me, though. Akira and Lilly are supposed to be back around then.
...Still, I can't really turn this down. As much as I'd love to be the first thing she sees when she gets off the plane, I've got to take care of business. I'm pretty sure stuff like that is better left in cheesy romance movies, anyway.
“That'd be great, really. We need more eager people like you.” He replies.
“What should I wear for it?” I ask.
A short silence ensures before this Setou answers with “uh, we don't have a general uniform for maintenance. I'm gonna go ahead and say something you wouldn't mind working in. Long pants and close-toed shoes, preferably. Actually, no, not preferably, it's kind of a regulation thing, so yeah, do wear that.”
He's definitely in a hurry.
“I can do that.” I return.
“Awesome. I'll catch you tomorrow then, got stuff that needs to get done.”
And then, without a goodbye, he hangs up.
Why was he in such a rush to get through the call? Is there such thing as frenzied crunch time in a research lab? Deadline to put something out for funding? Is it a business thing, or am I going to get a lot of experience with the ‘Setou’ gene within the next few days?
Either way, I’m pretty sure that he’s going to be my boss from now on. On one hand, I can't help but feel that he's in the same ballpark as the Kenji I'm used to – but on the other hand, he might present a different set of problems entirely.
I'll just have to wait and see how it plays out. At the moment, I should probably be more worried about whether or not that box survived tumbling down a hill.
The wood rattles against my knuckles as I rap on the door a few times. It's after classes, but before nightfall, so there's no reason he should be out and about right now. I'd like it if I didn't have to leave his damned mail sitting in my room for a month.
Contrary to my reasonable expectations, though, Kenji's presence appears to be nonexistant.
I knock one more time and call out 'hey, Kenji, I got your mail' a few times, only to receive the same response.
Well alright, then. I guess I'm stuck with this huge box taking up space in my room until Kenji decides to come b-
“Why are you knocking on my door, dude?”
Unable to keep myself from jumping, I turn and hop back from the source of the interruption.
“Where did you come from?” I yell.
Before me stands the Setou I’m more accustomed to – messy black hair, spectacles with lenses thicker than a dinner plate, and that same yellow and red striped scarf.
“Classified information. What's up?” Kenji asks.
How can he appear out of nowhere like that? Was he waiting around the corner or something?
“I've got your mail. It's in my room. What's in the box?”
Kenji meets my comment with a raised eyebrow, hands not budging from his pockets. “Why do you want to know?”
Oh no. We're not playing this game. I rode into the city to be told it was somewhere else, walked into town to pick it up afterward, attempted to carry it up to the school only to have to chase it down the hill, and then had to carry it up again. I've earned this.
“Because I went through a lot of crap to get it. I think I deserve at least a little peek.” I groan, leaning against the wall with my arms crossed.
“You gotta respect another man's privacy, dude. Wouldn't you be embarrassed if it was porn or something?” He counters, starting to seem a little leery.
“Does your mother send you porn in a box the size of a refrigerator?” I reply.
Rather than agree to show me the contents, however, he replies with “what if she does?”
“So not only do you order porn in giant packages, but your mother is the one who sends it to you? Come on, just show me what's in the box.” I argue.
“Is it weird for parents to send their kids care packages? I'm gonna have to say no to that, man.” He returns.
My curiosity is far too great to go without satisfaction. If I can't appeal to logic, then let's appeal to crazy.
“Do you have any idea what I went through to get this?” I begin.
Kenji remains silent, no doubt looking me up and down from behind those spectacles.
“They jumped me. At the post office.”
“What?” Kenji shouts as he rears back, brow shooting up and eyes widening.
“Yeah, they attacked me.”
“Who's they?” Kenji asks, his visage becoming the very definition of paranoid. He leans in with his hands clasped together, lips pursed together with anxiety. I’m sure if his glasses weren’t so thick I could see his eyes darting back and forth.
“The feminists. They wanted that package. Bad.”
“What do you mean they wanted the package? You gotta be more detailed, dude. When it comes to women, attacking could just mean they threw their shoe and pretended to be a victim for a police officer.”
“Oh, that would have been something even I could handle.” I pretend to muse before adding on “Better than the...”
Think of something. Something believable...
“Feminist assault ninja team.”
You blew it, Hisao.
“THEY SENT THE ASSAULT NINJA TEAM AFTER YOU?!” Kenji asks, his voice eclipsing into a scream. Just that alone is enough to pull some attention from the open doors down the hallway, no doubt making the two of us look like a couple of creeps.
Social acceptance is already something out of my reach, however, so I persist onwards.
“Uh, yeah, they were real serious, too. I had to duck and crawl with your box when all the rockets started flying. The only reason I got out alive is because women can't shoot.”
Kenji's jaw drops as he takes in everything I just said. Before, I considered it a curse, but now I'm quite thankful for all the time I've had to spend with him. I wouldn't have been able to put together something so absurd with anyone else.
Rather than screaming and ranting and raving, his next response is a simple “we gotta find out what's in that box. The future of mankind may depend on it.”
“Yeah, we gotta open that box and- wait what do you mean 'we gotta find out?!'” I yell.
“Exactly what I said. We gotta find out what's in the box. What did you think I meant?” Kenji replies, arms crossed as he waits for me to open my door.
“I thought you knew what was in the box. You were awfully defensive of it a few minutes ago.” I interject.
“What? Nah, man, my mom sends me stuff every now and then. I got that whiskey a few weeks ago from her.” He comments, as if it were something obvious.
“But... You... I...”
Unable to respond with anything other than stammering, I concede and open my door. Before I can pick up the box and hand it to him, however, he rushes past me and falls to his knees as he examines it.
It's a little beat up, thanks to its battle with gravity. I'll just tell Kenji it didn't make it out of the fight unscathed. If he believed something as absurd as feminist ninjas with rocket launchers, then a couple of bent corners and bumpy packaging should be a cinch to explain.
The tape atop the box is torn off and its flaps are pulled open, to reveal...
“Dammit, mom.” Kenji groans aloud.
He pulls apart the next package in a more rushed manner, only to meet the same result. The process repeats over and over again until the floor of my room is littered with discarded tape as Kenji tears into the cardboard maelstrom like a frenzied child on Christmas morning.
After a few minutes of this; we reach the center – a white shoebox.
I can almost catch a glimpse of a package in the center of it all. Kenji is leaning so far over the mailing disaster, however, that I'm unable to see what's inside of the shoebox through his torso.
Such a denial only entices my curiosity that much more, especially when his reaction to its contents is “oh come on! What's this sissy crap?!”
“What, what it is it?” I ask.
He pushes himself away from the boxes and sits against my bedpost, wearing a mask of disappointment as he crosses his arms.
Before he has a chance to grant or deny permission, I take a peek inside of the box. At the very center lies the white cardboard treasure chest, its lid ajar with what appears to be a bundle of newspapers. Inside of the cushion, however, is something much more interesting.
I pull the shoebox out before sitting down on my desk chair, examining the reddish-purple bottle.
“Your mother sent you wine?” I comment aloud.
“Yeah. Shit sucks, dude. I was getting my hopes up, too.” He replies, with another groan.
“What's so bad about that, though? Seems to me like she wants you to have lots of fun at school.”
“Wine is for women, Hisao. Women and men who have lost the right to call themselves men.” Kenji responds.
“Does that logic come from anything, or are you just making assumptions?” I counter.
He looks over to me with an expression of bewilderment before asking “you know who drinks wine, dude?”
“Vampires?” I answer.
“Vampires drink blood, dumbass. Women congregating over their little evening empowerment dinners drink wine. They pour it into these flimsy glasses, and then they take tiny, feminine sips out of it, pretending they have class.” He starts, cupping his hand as if to mimic and ridicule the idea.
“It's such a pretentious thing, dude! They don't actually like the stuff, they just pretend to whenever there's other people around so that they look refined or well-bred. It's just alcoholic grape juice, for fuck's sakes! I bet you that bottle there is some kind of super-refined stuff that will just help them fake it better!”
“So... men aren't allowed to drink wine?” I comment, cradling the bottle with both hands, still partially in its newspaper blanket.
“Hell no, dude! Men don't drink wine! Men drink whiskey, vodka, rum, gin, root beer, anything but wine! We get piss drunk, and then we go out and show the world who's boss! Interrupt female empowerment speeches, chop down forests, get into fights with grizzly bears, all kinds of shit like that!”
Rather than try to comprehend his logic, I ask “I take it you don't want this, then?”
If he's not going to keep it, then my day just got a whole lot better. It's a cheap tactic, but I know just the right person who would love something like this, and they happen to be in the perfect position to be receiving a welcome-back gift. I wouldn't have had enough time to get something if this hadn't come along.
“Look, dude, I was expecting something like an anti-feminist super weapon or some kind of sacred sword of slut-stabbing. Hell, even the comic books I asked her to send me last month would have been great. Do you want it?” He answers.
“I can do something with this, yeah.”
Kenji looks at me in deep thought for a few moments before responding with “¥1,000 and it's all yours.”
Should have seen that coming a mile away. As much as I'd like to barter, I know he won't be going any lower than that. Hell, it might turn out to be some kind of super-rare vintage wine worth a hundred times more than I paid for it.
I pull out my wallet and slide a ¥1,000 note out, flinging it through the air with two fingers at Kenji. Despite not even being able to see straight, he catches it in one hand and shoves it into his pocket with a satisfied 'heh.'
“There you go, man. Dunno what you're gonna do with it, though. I was planning to take it out somewhere and burn it. Or use it as bait. Or... something.”
Good thing I managed to grab it, then. Everything that has happened in the past week is making me think that my luck is finally starting to pick up.
I wonder how long it'll take for something to ruin it.
“Hey, Kenji. Why does your mother send you alcohol?” I ask.
“I dunno.” He answers, shrugging off the question.
“What do you mean you don't know? What if your mother is working with them and trying to keep you sedated with alcohol?”
“Working with who, the feminists?” Kenji turns and asks.
“Yeah. She's a woman, isn't she?”
“For one, moms aren't women, Hisao, everyone knows that.”
“And not all women are feminists, dude. It's easy to suspect them because you can't trust women irregardless, but not all of them are going to stab you in the dick and lock you in some kind of subjugation chamber.” He adds.
It give Kenji a blank stare before pushing myself back into the frame of mind it takes to talk to someone like him.
“Obviously they had to have been a decent person for some poor sap to fall for them in the first place. That's the problem, it's only a matter of time before a bunch of butch-dyke sluts take all our rights and steal away or convert all the semi-decent women.”
I'm getting this strange, uncanny feeling. There's actually logic behind his beliefs, and however twisted the supporting argument may be, it still makes sense.
“And most of the time, these stupid bitches don't even like women, they're just doing it for attention. Don't you just hate it when you love something, and it gets corrupted by shitheads who don't even believe half the garbage that comes out of their mouths?” He continues.
“It's like that online game where you did like thirty different things, and it was great even though the graphics were terrible because the quests and shit were so cool. And then the guys who ran the company left so the new people could shit all over it and add all this unnecessary garbage like minigames no one played and skills that had no benefit.”
“Kinda like movies that look promising in their trailers, but turn out terrible because some minority group complained to the directors?” I respond.
“Yeah, dude! It's shit like that. That's why we can't have nice things anymore, all because the guys in charge decide to listen to stupid people.”
The next few minutes consist of energetic ranting and raving as he stomps around my room, waving his arms around with more and more ferocity as time goes by. Only the first few sentences happen to be anything coherent, followed by nonsense that may as well be Kenji attempting to sing scat.
“And that's why you never trust a hoe.” He concludes, adjusting his glasses to indicate that he still has composure.
“I understand completely.” I reply.
That may just be the biggest lie I've told to date, but if it's enough to make him leave then I'll say anything. I appreciate him letting me buy the wine, but if this goes on for any longer I might just wind up hopping out the window.
Without another word, he straightens out his jacket and exits the room, hands in pockets as always. If the aura of confusion surrounding him were visible, I'm sure I wouldn't have even seen him leave.
[Hey, I won't be there to welcome you two back tomorrow at the airport, I’ve got work. I'm really sorry.]
I re-read the text on the lit-up screen a few times, checking for errors. Does that send the right impression? I'm sorry about not being able to be there, but I don't want to seem like it's tearing me up. At the same time, though, I don't want her to get the feeling that I'm just sending the message because I feel like I have to, or something.
It's really starting to get to this point. I'm obsessing over what I sound like in a text message. Call me cynical, but I think things like that are better reserved for thirteen year-old schoolgirls.
I tap the send key before setting the phone aside, ready to work through another round of homework. There's still a few weeks until exams, but the teachers do have a bit of a point when they urge us to study early.
Not like I have a life anyway, right? Better than sitting around and overanalyzing everything, as I've been doing. It's a habit I'm starting to break, at least, now that I have things in the present and future to focus on.
Speaking of focus – all of it shatters as soon as the cellular device on the desk begins to vibrate. This time, thankfully, it's a valid caller ID.
“Hey. Just got your little message about the airport thing tomorrow. Don't worry about it.” A familiar voice on the other end says.
“Oh, that? Yeah, Hanako and I had plans to be there when you stepped off the plane. I got called into orientation for work, though, so I won't be able to make it.”
“I take it you got that job, then?” She asks with a bit of enthusiasm.
“Yep. I'm officially a janitor, now.”
She gives a short chuckle before replying with “hey, it's just a stepping stone to greatness, I'm sure.”
“You never know, I suppose. I remember you mentioned an interview as well; how did that go?”
“It, ah... a lot of stuff happened, you could say.” She answers, her upbeat demeanor beginning to deflate. “If I chose to accept, then I'd have the job without question. The issue is, well, whether or not I even want the job. It's a lot to think about, to say the least.”
Before I can ask her to elaborate, Akira adds “heh, no point bogging you down with my family drama though, so I'll just say I'm still on the fence.”
“Hey, I'm here if there's anything you want to get off your chest, just remember that.” I state.
“Yeah, yeah; I'll tell you about it one of these days, I'm sure. Right now I just want to take it easy, knock back a few drinks, and get some rest for once. I just can't fall asleep on planes, for some reason.”
“Always with the alcohol, eh, Akira?” I comment, laughing.
“Hey, you're starting to sound a little like my boyfriend. And I don't mean that as a pick-up line – that's seriously something he says.” She replies, sounding more annoyed than anything.
Oh, right, she did mention something like that. That's what I get for trying to be funny, I suppose.
A single “sorry” leaks out of my mouth before I'm able to say anything else.
“Nah, it's alright. I'm not an alcoholic, though. Just a girl who enjoys her booze a little too much, really.” She jabs.
'Just a little too much' seems like a bit of an understatement, but at least she admits that there's something more than a 'normal' affinity for the stuff. That brings up a lot of questions, though. Why does she enjoy it so much? Is it part of her personality, or is it an acquired habit?
And how much does she drink for the guy she’s in a relationship with to insinuate that she's an alcoholic?
“How are things going with your boyfriend, by the way?” I ask.
“It's starting to go a little smoother, actually.” She answers, perking up at the question. “It's not perfect, but we've been talking a little bit every day. Getting stuff sorted out and all that jazz.”
So things are working out after all, it would seem. I knew they'd give it another try, and I'm happy for her, but... why does it feel like my heart just dropped into my stomach? Even if I might have feelings for her, is it really my right to be upset about something that will make her happier as a result?
“That's great!” I reply.
“We've still got a lot of things to work through, though. At the very least it should be better than it has been for the past few months.” Akira responds.
“Hey, at least you're taking steps to make it better. There are plenty of people who would have just dropped it and regretted doing so.”
She thinks for a bit before answering with “well, you had a point back then. What reason do I have to let it die if we've gotten this far? It's not like there's any other guys who...”
Her voice trails off as she mulls over her words, leaving a strange silence coming from the other end of the phone line.
“Hah, yeah, right.” She mumbles to herself. “Anyway, Lilly and I will be back tomorrow. If it really means that much to you, then maybe the four of us can go out and do something that evening. There's a restaurant we haven't been able to go to in years.”
The two of us -- that reminds me, I might have to go tell Hanako that I won’t be able to go to the airport tomorrow. It was a fight just to find her in the hallway and ask what she had planned, though, so I hope she doesn’t take it the wrong way if I can’t be there.
“That works for me. Definitely.” I reply.
That is perfect. I get to see her that day and it gives me a perfect chance to give her that welcome-back present. Job training shouldn't take more than a few hours, so if there's a restaurant involved then I'll have time to go back to the dorm and change.
“Great. I'll see you two tomorrow, then.”
“Take it easy, Akira.” I respond.
A beep sounds from the speaker, indicating that the call has ended.
Everything is set up. It'll be a busy day, having to go to school, then work, and then to a restaurant with three girls. I'm not sure how I'll handle the situation without embarrassing myself, but the fact that I'm in this position in the first place is better than not trying at all.
The problem with her boyfriend, if I can even call it that, is something of a curve ball though. I can't say I'm not happy for her, but what if the issue is bigger than I thought?
I don't even know who her partner is, at any rate. Was it the right thing to tell her to persist and try to make it work out? For all I know, I could have convinced her to try and make amends with an abusive motorcycle gangster!
No, that's a little too extreme. She said they'd been together for something like a year, so I doubt they're so far apart on the spectrum that they'd be the worst possible people for each other. How many couples even make it to a year?
I'm sure I'm just overthinking this, like everything else. Judgment should wait until I've met the guy, and at this rate, I doubt I'll ever meet him.
I'll put off sorting out my feelings until after tomorrow. I've already got enough on my plate.
Last edited by Thanatos02
on Tue Oct 22, 2013 1:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.