Re: Akira Pseudo-Route [Updated as of 12/25]
Posted: Tue Feb 04, 2014 4:30 am
New chapter's finally here, still warm from the ass-melting I received from my editors, and I'm sure the fine folk here will be sure to keep the fire kindled. I was actually writing up an extension of the last chapter, because I keep reading over the ending and some of the commentary for it and I feel like it's just not complete. I think an addendum is still in order, but for now I think I'll try and focus on getting the rest of the threads worked out. If all goes as planned I might not even need an extension to 5-5.
Can't say much about action in this segment, but there's a lot of scene setting going on, and we're finally getting ready for the last few scenes.
Just gotta set the table a bit more, then I can start putting food on the plates.
Thank you so much for your continued support. It means more to me than you'll ever know.
Act 5 - Part 6: The Way You Look Tonight
The longer the night wears on, the more the text in the book starts to blur together, forming nonsensical gibberish that only makes me want to throw it off of my desk and fall asleep right here. The alarm clock on my nightstand only reads ‘10:30,’ which I'm sure is normal sleeping time for most students here.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for myself. What was previously an admirable habit for passing finals has turned into a curse, with my sleep schedule having long since adjusted to staying up until two in the morning with a textbook in front of me. At the very least it gives me some time to catch up on all the reading I haven't been doing, provided my compulsive desire to study has been sated.
...I also need a quiet environment to read in, which the vibrating slab on my desk doesn’t seem very keen on offering right now. Considering that it’s a Friday and it’s about that time of night, however, I don’t even have to check the caller ID to know what’s going on.
“Good evening.” I answer upon flipping the device open.
Not even a second passes before I’m met with a stark “Hey, what’s up?”
“Just starting to get ready for bed.” I reply, finally prying my eyes away from the many papers strewn across my desktop and leaning back in a stretch.
“Well, I hope you haven’t changed into your pajamas yet. I need someone to let me in the front gate.” She states, her words ever-so-slightly slurred together in fatigue.
As soon as she says that, all of the fatigue is whisked away from my mind and I’m left glancing out the window, unsure of what to think. “Let you in the front gate? Did something happen with Lilly?”
Through the phone, the low hum of her engine can be heard alongside the clicking of a turn signal, making me wonder just how close she is to the school. Usually she calls once she’s gotten home and settled in, but there’s no telling how long she’s been driving if she came straight here once she got off the clock.
“Nah. There’s nothing wrong, I’m just trying to get away from my dad for a while. He was heckling me at work and I had a gut feeling that he was going to try and meet me at home as well.” She explains, followed by a lazy yawn. “Which parking lot should I use if the one on the side is closed? I’ve never had to visit this late before.”
I glance out my window, trying to get my bearings on where the faculty parking might be while also wondering what could have happened with her father. “There’s the one behind the gym. It's supposed to be reserved for the teachers though, so I’m not too sure if you’ll be able to get in.”
“Well I guess I'll just have to keep looking around, then. It would be really suspicious if my car got towed at three in the morning, even moreso if they found me hanging out with one of the students past curfew.” She responds, letting out a low sigh. “There's a sign for visitor parking, at least.”
“You aren't worried about being the only visitor?” I reply while I put on my shoes.
My phone goes quiet for a few moments while she looks for a parking spot. “Well, there are a few other cars out here, so it shouldn't be too suspicious. Maybe there are some other students getting visits as well.” Her voice takes on a heavy tone for a moment, as if suggesting something that slips by me.
I decide to head for the front entrance to meet her, holding the device against my ear while I peek around each corner of the dorm. I’ve still got half an hour until it’ll be considered breaking curfew, but for now I think I’m safe -- on the other hand, there's no doubt in my mind that having a guest over is prohibited no matter what time of night it is.
“I'm meeting you at the front, right?” I ask, already trying to figure out if there are any other alternative entrances in the first place.
I get an affirmative 'mhm' as soon as I'm out the front door of the dorm, the evening breeze sending refreshing chills through my body. There's no one in sight save for a night janitor picking up trash off the sidewalk, so at least there's a safe bet that I won't get caught sneaking a woman onto campus.
By the time I make it to the big wrought-iron gates, Akira is already waiting on the other side of the small door beside them, our gazes connecting and a playful pout emerging on her lips. “Took you long enough.”
“Oh please, you just got here yourself.” I step off to the side and open the door for her, earning a smile and a wink for my troubles. She tugs my arm with her free hand while the other rests in the same old pinstriped uniform I've grown attached to.
Her step matches mine and she looks me up and down with a light smile. “Now that I think about it, isn’t it pretty late for a student? You haven’t even changed out of your uniform.”
“Neither have you.” I return, my thoughts going blank for a moment while I wonder what I should do – be it holding her hand, letting her grab my arm, putting one arm around her shoulder... instead I just let my arms awkwardly hang at my sides.
She nudges me in the ribs. “That's because I just got off of work, you goof. What's your excuse?“
“Me? Sleep schedules are for chumps, don't you know?” I reply with a hint of sarcasm, avoiding any major details. “I’ve gotta keep up with class in case anything happens again. What’s a few hours of sleep now?”
Her shoes click against the pavement in a steady fashion, the only noise keeping us company beyond the conversation. “What's the deal with that? You don't seem like the sort to fall behind in class.” She says, skipping over my chance to answer when she adds “Or maybe it's so you don't feel so guilty next time you decide to stay the night.” with a teasing peek.
I can feel the heat radiating off of my face while blood rushes to my head. “I'm not going to comment on that."
“Ooh, you're awfully red.” She teases, wrapping one arm around my back and pressing against me. “What's on your mind, cowboy?”
I take step away in an attempt to shake the impure thoughts from my mind. “I'm just trying to stay on top of studies. Maybe this time I won’t have to cram and pray so hard to get through finals. It didn’t help that I was still lagging behind a bit once I got out of the hospital.”
Akira's expression droops a bit at the mention of the word 'hospital.' “Now that I think about it, you never told me much about your incident. I remember a little bit, but... you know how it goes when you're drunk, right?”
“Where do I even start...” I say, trying to remember what all I've told her and how to add on to it. Partway through my thoughts we reach the dorm, but before I can go to hold the door open for her, she grabs my arm and holds me in place.
“Well, it's a great night out. Maybe you could show me around campus – I didn't get the grand tour when I helped Lilly move in.” She says with a grin, her hand snaking past me while she hooks her arm around mine. “Besides, I'm sure it's easier to talk out here than in that stuffy dorm room.”
I pull her a bit closer, trying to figure out all of this 'walking with a significant other' stuff. “The rooms here are actually pretty nice. The beds aren't award winning, but...”
“There's that too. If I see a bed, I'm just going to crash. I don't care who normally sleeps there.” Akira returns, her composure beginning to loosen up while she leans against me.
“So where am I gonna stay if you're taking my bed?” I remark, trying to adjust my step so that she isn't bouncing against my shoulder.
She shoots me a sultry grin, brow narrowing while she looks me over. “Take a wild guess.” Akira says, quickly falling out of the mood while she lets loose with a yawn. “That's something to worry about later, though. You still wanna tell me that story?”
“Oh, right.” I try and recall that night over a month ago, the first time she took me to the jazz club. “I told you about the girl, right?”
It's really strange how I can just refer to it like that – I don't feel the need to beat around the bush anymore, but at the same time I feel like everything leading into my time in the hospital should still be something that stirs me up. To an extent, it is, considering how my heart seems to ache just from remembering the agonizing feeling of writhing in the snow, but it's... easier to deal with now, I suppose. Or at least easier to recollect.
Akira nods, still in a thoughtful trance as she racks her brain for the memory. “Yeah, you said it happened because a girl confessed to you.”
“That's pretty much it.” I say, shrugging one shoulder. “When I was in the hospital, the doctor said it was something I always had and that it was amazing that it took so long for me to have an incident.”
The big metal bleachers draw into view as we pass the academic building, the patting of my sneakers and the tapping of her dress shoes creating a steady rhythm.
“Well, you don't seem like much of a thrill-seeker in the first place. Was that the only big scare you'd seen?” Akira asks, perking up and straightening her posture as soon as she notices the track.
At first I want to oppose the thought, but now that I think about it; I've always been a little cautious, even when I was at home or hanging out with friends. Maybe it was something I'd built up subconsciously, like my body setting up defenses for a threat I didn't know about yet.
“You could probably say that, yeah. I didn't have a very interesting childhood beyond arcade nights and a bit of an explorer's streak.” I answer, trying to recall the names of all the friends I used to have – many of them elude me, for obvious reasons. “I was really bitter about it for a while. The incident, that is. It sounds stupid to say that my life can't be exciting anymore, but when I step back and consider it...”
My words trail off while I slip back into my thoughts, relenting as that list of 'un-doables' drifts through my mind once more. “No more scary movies, no more athletics, no amusement parks, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Any amount of stress at all is no good, or at least that's what the doctor says.”
“Are you trying to say I'm not very exciting?” She asks, unable to contain the pouty tone of her voice while she teases at my cheek with one finger.
I find myself recoiling at the notion. “Well, no, that's not what I meant at all. I'm just...”
Akira pulls away while we loop around the fence to get into the bleachers. “I know what you're saying. Cheer up. You're more attractive when you're smiling.” She glances over her shoulder and winks.
Despite her best attempts, all I can do is shake my head. “Just think about it, though. No more fast rides, no sudden stops in traffic, no collisions with people in the hallway. I'll bet that even loud bass at a concert is enough to set me off.”
Then again, I haven't done much experimentation with any of the things I've mentioned. “I find that the best approach is to just treat it like it's a land-mine and that any amount of agitation is too much.”
She seems to have different thoughts, however. “I see where you're coming from and I have to admit that it's pretty shitty, but that’s no reason to go holding back, is it?”
Akira pauses for a moment, as if taking back her words. “I'll forgive you if you're a little sad, but c'mon now; isn’t that a free pass to relax as much as possible? I mean, seriously, there will be no time in the future where you don’t have an excuse to take it easy.”
I can’t help but give a short laugh. “Well, I wouldn't speak so soon, since it affects us too. You saw how it started acting up during...” I trail off, unable to give proper words to the concept.
“Oh?'” She asks, deciding to take every chance she can get to tease me. “You mean sex, right?”
“Well... yeah.” I avoid her gaze while we sit down on the front row, memories of that time Akira spent on top of me already flooding into my addled thoughts.
A chuckle slips through the silence while she huddles closer to me, clearly enjoying the warmth. “You know you don't have to beat around the bush with that, right? It's just me here anyway.”
I shake my head. “Well, that's not... the point.” I stutter out while I try to get my thoughts back in order. “You saw how bad it got, didn't you? Just from a few moments of taking the lead?”
“So? There are thousands of ways to do things.” Akira shrugs. “I'm not even talking about sex. There's always an alternate route, isn't there? It may not always be perfect, but I'm more worried about finding a way to succeed than I am about being the best person at it.”
I begin to think about how going up and down the stairs is enough to light the fuse, but I'm cut short – she is right, isn't she? That's a given, though, it's not something I afford to spend all day contemplating -- I can't take the stairs so I'll take the elevator, I can't be on top so I'll take bottom, I can't do athletics so I'll succeed in academics.
Akira shoots a quick glance at her watch, seemingly content with the time. “There's always going to be a world of stuff you can't do. I can't drink a gallon of vodka without going to the hospital the same way I can't will my car to fly over lunchtime traffic. That doesn't mean the drinks are worthless or that I should sell my car.” She explains, leaning against the row behind us while she gazes at the stars.
“Of course not, it's all about perspective.” I assert, leaning forward and propping my head up in both hands. “It just feels like I'm still trying to get back up after having the rug yanked out from under me. It’s not like what you said, about the vodka -- it’s more like finding out that you’re allergic to it and that even a little overindulgence is enough to put you in the ground.”
This time, we both let loose a long sigh, glancing across the field and watching a flag jitter in the breeze. The metal seats feel cold even through my shirt and I can hear the steady jangling of a chain against a flagpole, just loud enough to be noticed but not so loud that it passes for more than background noise.
Akira pats me on the shoulder, adjusting her coat sleeves while she settles in beside me. “You just gotta play with the hand you're dealt sometimes.” She slips into her thoughts, shaking her head at the memory of something. “I've had the rug yanked out from under me more times than I can remember. That's what happens when you've got strict parents.”
“I can't say my mom and dad were very strict. Half the time they were either working or too contained by whatever they were doing to set any real enforcement against me.” I can feel my hand settling on Akira's, as if nothing could be more natural. “I used to go out and wander the city at night after they fell asleep. Even now I don't think they know if I ever left.”
She flashes a light smile at me, shifting around to get her arm into the right position beside mine. “See, that sounds like something small, but I couldn't get out of the house even if I tried. We lived in a pretty big place – seven bedrooms, an outdoor bath, a meeting hall, all the big stuff.” Akira explains, her head tilting back while she gazes up at the sky. “It was impossible to sneak out because of the butlers. The only time I ever had something resembling freedom was at school.”
I'm given a curt scoff, as if she were trying to laugh off something bitter. “Tried to do athletics... nope. Tried to join some clubs... nope. Tried to get a part-time job at the bakery... nope.” She says, taking a moment to catch herself before adding “Well... I couldn't land a job at the bakery because I'm a lousy cook.”
“That's not what I've heard.” I return, recalling all the times her cooking has been mentioned. “All those compliments about your dumplings fly right over your head?”
“Everyone has at least one thing they're good at cooking.” She smirks, bumping her hip against me while she shifts into a more comfortable position, her hand now settled into mine and our fingers clasping together. “Lilly had to take care of everything when it was just us living together. I know a few things – enough for Hanako to give me a call to ask about it, but beyond operating a pot of boiling water, don't go expecting restaurant quality.”
That explains a few things, I suppose; mostly the grimaces every time Hanako or Tetsuo mentioned Akira's cooking. I can't say I'm not a little disappointed, but then again... “I still wouldn't mind if you cooked for me. Maybe threw on one of those cute aprons too.”
“Yeah, I'll get back to you on that once you've taken me out to dinner, big man.” She yawns, each word coming out in a deep, airy tone.
The stars gleam with a strange curiosity, flashing lights passing through the night sky around the moon. Akira undoes the top button of her shirt and stretches out her legs, seemingly tempted to kick off her shoes. A small glow sparkles in her ruby-red eyes, twinkling with thought for just a moment before her eyes drift shut. “And then there's athletics... did I ever tell you about that?”
I shake my head. “I don't think so, but Lilly mentioned it – about how you wanted to be a cheerleader when you were younger.” I smirk, shifting to the side to avoid the elbow that's sent my way.
“Yeah, and I wanted to be on the basketball team as well. I tried out for pretty much everything.” She says, letting go before sitting up and propping her head on her knees. “Baseball, kendo, tennis, and yeah, the cheer squad as well.” A small groan accompanies her statement, as if she regrets the thought altogether. “Well... it sounds like a lot, but each try-out was only a day, and I never really pushed myself for most of it. The only ones I had a chance at were the swim team, which I could've easily made, and the soccer team, which the coach personally asked me to be a part of.”
A small jolt forces me to sit up as well. “You wanted to play soccer?”
“Yeah. These long legs are good for something, you know.” She nods before dodging eye contact and giving me that cheeky look of hers. “He was looking for a sweeper and I figured I'd be good for it, just running wherever I'm needed.”
I begin to recollect all the time I used to share with my old school friends, waiting to be picked for teams by whoever the cool kids were that week. We all had our regular positions, though; goalie, attacker, defender, sweeper...
“I used to play soccer all the time at my old school, back before everything changed.” I respond, feeling my chest tighten up at the memory of running up and down the grassy field. “All the guys in my classes played soccer. I never tried out for the team, though, since I was there more for fun than for competition.”
I can remember all the kids that used to get into fights over keeping score, tackling each other to the ground and wrestling because of how into the game they were. Even now, it doesn't seem all that important; it's not like we were playing for anything or that there were ever any girls watching us. Most of us weren't even that good – there were those few guys that joined a kid's league or made it onto the team in school, but beyond that we were just kicking a ball around.
“What position did you play?” Akira glances over at me, her eyes glimmering with curiosity.
“Sweeper. Sometimes I tried to play goalie because I could get a little short-winded, but for the most part they always picked me for sweeper.” I shrug, my back arching while I try to stretch. “When we did organized games, anyway. Most of the time it was just kicking a ball for the sake of kicking a ball. We... well, I wasn't too attached to it.”
That is, until I realized that it's something I'm never going to be able to do again. They say you don't see how valuable something is until you've lost it, and while I wouldn't say soccer is the world to me, it's still... another thing on that long list of activities I can't take part in anymore.
Akira begins to stand up, patting her coat and pants for any dust or dirt left behind by the seat. “That's pretty interesting, actually. See, you say it like it's nothing big, but to me that would've been everything.” A low grumble escapes her lips and she shakes her head. “Academics was the only thing that mattered to my father. The first time I tried to go against that and head to baseball tryouts, he grounded me for a month.”
“Does being grounded really mean anything when you're not allowed to leave the house in the first place?” I wonder, as the same time trying to think back to whether or not I had ever been grounded as a kid.
She shrugs, adjusting her coat. “He found ways to make it hurt. I don't think I was ever actually punished by him personally, but the head butler had no problem giving me a good smack every now and then.” Akira says, whistling a bit as she mimics the action of being slapped upside the head. “It was never anything big, but it was still pretty stupid now that I look at it.”
I stand up and nudge her in the side while we begin moving away from the field. “Is there anything you did manage to get away with? I mean, all academics, all hours of the day? There's no way anyone could survive that.”
At this, I receive a small frown. “It's not like we weren't let off the leash every now and then. We had a nice pool table downstairs, and he didn't mind me taking a nap in the study so long as I didn't make any noise.”
“Is that it? That must have been as boring as it got.” I grimace, trying to imagine my options between being cooped up in a room all day and being stuck in an office. I'm not exactly a socialite, but something like that would destroy me.
“Well, like any rebellious teenager, I went through a few boyfriends.” Her tone is nonchalant, as if it were no big deal. “Nothing ever came of it, though. They were always in it more for themselves and they were horrible about bragging. It never lasted for more than a few weeks.”
Somehow I can just imagine Akira dragging a guy around the hallways, looking for ways to get into trouble before ultimately deciding to just go to class. I wonder how Lilly would have felt about it, or if Lilly even knew – didn't they go to different schools once Akira got into high school?
“So am I doing any better than them so far?” I ask, brushing a small patch of dust off of her shoulder that she must have missed.
As soon as I finish the statement, she grabs my tie and pulls herself closer, planting a small peck on my cheek. “You're doing a lot better, and don't you dare doubt it.”
“Ooh, so this is your place, then.” Akira remarks as soon as I turn on the light, all while I quickly check around for any dirty laundry or misplaced trash. She takes no time before plopping down on my bed, her expression going sour as soon as she hears the creaking of the springs. “You sleep on this?”
“It's not like there are any other options right now.” I shrug. The desk lamp makes an idle click while I flick it on, turning off the overhead light in an attempt to make the room easier on my tired eyes. “You don't think it's that bad, do you?”
She grimaces at the metallic squeaking, bouncing up and down as if trying to force herself to get used to it. “I guess you can't go expecting a memory foam mattress from a dormitory. Still, you have to admit, it's a pretty crappy bed.” Akira says, pulling her coat off before folding it over the back of my desk chair.
I can hardly disagree. The school as a whole is really nice, but there are still some areas where it's lacking, especially in the dorms; I suppose you can't expect everything to be perfect. “You just get used to it, I guess. Although it would be nice to come home to something better after work.” I murmur, still feeling the spot on my back where the stands dug into my skin.
The woman sitting on my bed kicks her shoes off before pulling each leg up to slip out of her black socks. With those set aside and in order, she then loosens her tie and lays it over my chair alongside her jacket. Considering that there isn't much to talk about, I go ahead and do the same, setting my own footwear under the desk before taking off my dress shirt.
I suppose it is about time for bed; I wasn't expecting Akira to stay the night, though. “So what exactly has your father been doing to make so much trouble?” I mention while I clean up my desk, unable to keep from smiling while she flops back on the airy, hollow mattress.
She rolls over and faces away from me, the light clinging of metal sounding as though she were unfastening her belt. “I just wanted to get away from my father for a while. He's been hounding me non-stop at work and tonight he was going to wait at the penthouse to go out to dinner or something.”
“Wait, what?” I ask with surprise around after tossing my shirt in the hamper with my other dirty clothes. “He's... been hounding you? I was under the impression that he was sitting in a hotel room this entire time.”
“Nope.” She responds, letting out an exasperated sigh, as if all the stress from the past few days is catching up to her. “He probably thinks that if he can get me out to enough fancy restaurants it'll change my mind. It doesn't help that he's starting to invite co-workers as well -- other board-members, anyway.”
The thought of such a thing doesn't do a lot to put me at ease. “You aren't still thinking about it, are you? Going back to Scotland with him.”
The bed creaks as she rolls onto her back, cradling her head in both arms while glancing over at me. “Hell no. If anything, it's making me just want to quit altogether and start over somewhere else…”
Her voice trails off and she shakes her head, giving me time to pull out the desk chair and have a seat while she gets her thoughts in order.
“Thinking about quitting your job?” I ask, unable to hide the worry in my voice. “This is the first time I've heard about that. I thought you really enjoyed your work?”
“I do.” She says, lying back and letting out a low groan. “I enjoy my job quite a bit. I'm satisfied with my co-workers and I like the position I'm in, even if it can be a pain in the ass sometimes. It's just... hard working in the same business as family, you know?”
She quickly catches herself. “Well, no, I guess you wouldn't.” Akira gives a half-chuckle, pausing for a moment to undo the buttons of her work shirt, revealing a white camisole underneath. “Basically, the man never really left. The second he caught wind of my uncle leaving the position and appointing me, he went absolutely berserk.”
Ever since I'd heard about the family drama between her uncle and her father, I had been a little scared of something like this. I don't want to think that any of this Scotland business stems from a family feud, though. “Why didn’t he just fire you, then?”
I’m met with a shrug and a befuddled gaze, as if she wants to know the answer even more than I do. “Every time that alarm clock wakes me up in the morning, that’s the first question on my mind. ‘Why the hell hasn’t the old man just fired me and saved himself a few grey hairs.’”
She pauses to take a deep breath, rolling her eyes as another thought passes through her mind. “Sometimes I like to think that it’s the parental instinct holding him off; like maybe he wants to give me a chance and see how I grow. Then again, I haven’t given him any major screw ups, so he probably just doesn’t want to look bad by firing someone ‘for no reason.’” She explains.
The way he talks about her makes it seem like she can’t go five minutes without a major screw up, but maybe that’s just how he phrases small things? He could be one of those psycho parents that pushes their children to be successful by being the one to light the fire behind them.
“It’s anyone’s guess, I suppose. If you don’t know, then who would?” I remark, scratching my head and trying to get off of the subject. “What was all of that about harassment, then?”
“I wouldn't call it harassment. More heckling than anything.” She answers, more than glad to step away from the topic of parental motives. “Normally he wouldn't get involved, since I'm still at a fairly low level compared to the business he usually deals with. But because I'm his daughter, he tends to go a little overboard. E-mails, mostly, although every now and then it gets brought up in board meetings, how 'the head honcho' is never satisfied with something about my department.”
“...Why am I only hearing about this now?” Is the first thing that comes out of my mouth. “I understand not wanting to bring this kind of thing up, but don't you think that's pretty important considering everything that's been going on?”
At this, she sits up and moves to the side of the bed, facing me. “I never thought there would be a good reason to bring it up. I've been under the impression that he's out more for someone to continue the company, so it’s been more about Lilly than me. He keeps bringing up all the stuff to do with my job, though.” Akira says, rubbing her head like she's just been stricken with a major headache. “Nothing he does makes sense to me. He trash talks me for an hour and then tries to mention how much he wishes he could have me and Lilly back home.”
I'm just going to try and focus on the main issue here. “So is that what makes you want to quit your job?”
“It's just an idle thought, nothing to worry about.” She says, reaching over and patting my shoulder while she tries to wear an uncertain smile. A small wave of worry passes over her expression while she thinks of how to explain it, groaning a bit before she continues. “I don't really know how to say it, to be totally honest. I just feel like this isn't what I should be doing...”
Her statement is interrupted by a vibrating coming from her phone; a strange occurrence considering that it's midnight. One look at the caller ID is all it takes for her to dismiss it, though, waiting for it to stop ringing before setting it on the desk and nudging it away.
Her chest heaves while she takes a deep breath, unsure of where to pick up again. “What I'm trying to say is; I feel like I got into my job because it's what my family was doing and it's what presented itself. I don't really know what I'd rather be doing, I just know this it isn't this.”
The words ring through my skull for a while. What I'm doing right now isn't what I want to be doing, and I don't know what I want to be doing. All I know is that it isn't this. It's a strange way of looking at things, but at the same time it makes total sense.
“I can't say I haven't been thinking of the same thing for a while now, when it comes to my job.” I say, shuffling the papers on my desk while I look for the little pamphlet I received at work. “It's a funny feeling, and I think I know where you're coming from.”
I pass the colored paper to her, only to receive an assenting hum. “Those company tuition programs are such a mixed bag. It's either a great deal or a massive scam. You never know what you're gonna wind up with.” She says with a downcast frown, casting the slip of paper back onto my desk with an almost bitter aura about her. “I want to say that it's all about my job, but I really do feel that it's the way my father's acting about this that's pushing me away.”
“I just want to be rid of him.” Akira asserts, slumping forward and propping her chin up on one arm. “I don't mean I want him to go die or anything, just... I'm sick and tired of the restrictions, you know? I thought it would go away once they moved out, but he's still there, barking orders at me and telling me what I can and can't do even when he's overseas six years after the fact.”
“Why don't you ignore him?” I ask, mimicking her and leaning in as well.
At this she gives me one of those 'what the hell is wrong with you' looks, not even budging as her face contorts into disbelief. “That's just not how it works. It would be one thing if he were my dad, but he's my boss as well. I can't just put my boss on the ignore list.” She explains, sighing wistfully at the thought of such a thing. “It just feels like I'm never gonna get anywhere until I cut him out of my life, and I can't do that unless I find a new job.”
“Okay, so, let’s slow down for a second here.” I remark, heaving a deep groan while I try to process all of the information she’s feeding me. “Why… what… how will getting a new job cut him out of your life? What’s stopping him from following you there?”
“It’s what I mentioned earlier.” Her words come across in low tones, avoiding eye contact with a downcast gaze. “My job is the only way he really holds anything over me, and it’s the only reason he can still get away with following me around.”
Not going to get anywhere unless you cut it out of your life, huh? I shake my head before lightly caressing her cheek. “If that’s the case, then what exactly is stopping you, then? I feel like you’re looking at this in all of the wrong ways.”
“Because so far it hasn't been a big enough thing to drive me off.” She gives a half-hearted shrug, leaning into my hand and shutting her eyes. “It's a huge deal, but then again, so is my job as a whole. How many twenty-four year old women can say they're in a position like mine? That kind of an opportunity isn’t gonna pop up again, I can't just throw that all away.”
She gives me a small pout before perking up. “I mean, let's be honest here – it would take years of climbing the ladder just to get back to where I was, assuming that's even possible without going back to school for another five years. I don't think you understand just how hard I lucked out here.”
“Doesn't the experience count for anything? You've already been doing that you're do-”
I'm cut off mid-sentence by a thin finger over my lips. “No, Hisao. It's just the way things are in this business. It's a really shitty standard, but it's the standard no matter what I say.”
That doesn't mean you should settle for being harassed by your family on a daily basis, though. At some point in time the cons are going to start outweighing the pros. “I only bring this up because I've been feeling the same way about my own future. I understand that you like your job, but you don't seem very passionate about it.”
My words seem to echo through her head and she disappears into her thoughts once more, shifting around on the bed while trying to resist sleep. I take the opportunity to search around for some pajama pants, setting them aside for later.
“I think all I really need is a change of atmosphere.” Akira remarks with a dull tone, as if regretting the fact that she's considering it in the first place. “What you say about me not being very passionate – I'd say that's true as well. That's not to say I don't care about my job, though.”
This time, before I can speak, she jerks up and pulls me closer, our faces mere inches apart and a blank frown on her lips. “You know, you're doing that thing again where you do nothing but ask about me instead of talking about yourself.”
“Ah, sorry.” Is the only thing I can think to say, although the fact that we're talking about her situation makes me feel like the complaint is a little one sided. “I just don't think that my side of this is worth bringing up when you're talking about huge stuff like a family feud and being unsatisfied at work.”
“You keep saying 'my side' like you wanna go on and then you pull away every time.” Akira returns with a sour look, giving my collar a slight tug while she pulls me closer.
I sit back as soon as she lets go, adjusting my shirt while I try to think of what to say. “It's just some choices I have to make. Basically, I don't know if I want to stay at my job and work toward being a chemist, or if I'd rather drop it and pursue being a teacher.”
“Well, what would you rather do?” She asks before any other discussion can occur, trying not to shrug as if it were the simplest question ever.
At that, I let out a long groan and slump back, gazing up at the ceiling. “I don't know. They both look like really good careers.”
The bed creaks while she stands up and stretches her arms, now discarding her shirt onto the bed before untucking her camisole. “What I mean is; which one do you enjoy more? Get that figured out, then you can start factoring in all the stuff like opportunities and tuition assistance.”
“Teaching, without a doubt.” I say, able to state it with confidence despite having no more teaching experience than a primary school tutor. “There's just so much more to it. I'm really interested in chemistry and I still want to give a chance, but just... even helping someone understand something in class gives me this really satisfying feeling. It's like it's calling out to me.”
She gives me a bright smile, reaching down and ruffling my hair. “See, that's really good. You should be proud – a lot of people don't figure out that crap out until later.”
Upon saying that, her expression is overcome by one of those bitter half-smiles before plopping down on the bed again, the springboard giving an airy ‘pomf’ against her weight. “That's what makes it so hard to quit my job. I don't know what else is out there for me; I could go back to school and be an accountant if I wanted, but that doesn't mean I'd be any more satisfied there than I am here.”
“That's been something I'm worried about as well.” I say, able to feel the frown forming on my lips. “I want to be a teacher, but... realistically, being a chemist is a lot more feasible when it comes to money things.”
“Yeah, realistically.” Akira returns, crossing her arms. “It would be amazing to just stop caring about money and do whatever my heart leads me to, but... well, you know what I'm gonna say.”
“Life isn't a fairy tale.” I recall, feeling incredibly put down by the fact that I now have to consider this dynamic as well as all of the others. “Still, I never wanted money to be a problem.”
The alarm clock on my desk ticks '12:30,' making me glad that classes tomorrow will only be half as long. The woman across from me takes notice of this as well, deciding that it's time to stop restraining her yawns. “So what are you gonna do?”
Those words were already floating around in my mind, but for some reason hearing them from her just makes them sink in that much more. What am I going to do? The two options are clearly put on the table for me, but it's not a matter of just picking one or the other; I have to go with all of the other things that come along with them.
“I'm not sure.” I answer, shooting a glance to the crumpled-up pamphlet on the desk. “What about you?”
Her answer is the same. “I'm still working on that. I've been holding off on making a decision until after the big thing my dad has planned. He invited me and Lilly to one of his investors' meetings to get a look at 'what he does,' or something like that.” She explains, her eyes clearly heavy with fatigue.
“Isn't your birthday soon as well?” I ask, feeling immensely guilty that it hasn't been as big a blip on my radar as it should have.
She nods. “It's on Wednesday, yeah. It's alright if you haven't been paying much attention to it; I've barely thought of it too. Not much time to celebrate a birthday when you're solving bigger problems.” A tired laugh slips away from her, only serving to make me feel sleepy as well.
“And when's that big event?” I continue, the gears in my mind trying to turn while I think of something to do for her birthday as well as plan for the other thing she's got going on.
“Monday.” She answers, letting out a long groan. “You wanna come too, I take it?”
An investors' meeting with her father, with her birthday a few days later. I can't help but feel like I'm getting myself into more trouble than I'll be able to take, but... “Would I even be allowed?”
I’m met with a long shrug. “There’s always a few chairs set up on the side in case someone wants to bring a guest. It’s not like it’s all smoke and mirrors since they have to publish most of the discussion material in the first place.” She explains in a dreary tone, as if the concept itself is the most boring thing in the world for her. “Just be quiet and I’m sure there won’t be any problems.”
“Of course I’m going to come, then.” I assert, standing up and stretching.
Akira lets out another hearty yawn without responding to my statement, her mind and body both clearly yearning for the warm embrace of one of my pillows.
“That's good. That's one of the big things I wanted to mention.” She says, rubbing her eyes while she tries to stave off sleep a bit longer. “I think we should leave all the details for tomorrow though, if you know what I'm saying.” She continues, gesturing to the desk lamp.
“I get what you're saying.” I return with a light smirk, flicking the light off. Now only the dim, pale glow of the moonlight sneaks in, just barely illuminating Akira's figure.
As soon as the light goes off, I can hear the sound of a zipper being undone, followed by “you don't mind if I take my pants off, right? I would've brought some pajamas if I was able to stop by home.”
“Oh, uh... not at all...?” I answer.
I try to avert my gaze due to my face likely turning a bright shade of crimson. However, I can't say I'm left with much guilt as soon as I catch the sight of the cherry-red hugging her hips -- the act itself is enough to stave off any shame I felt about changing in front of her, and it only takes a few moments to trade my green school trousers for a pair of blue pajama pants.
The silence is punctuated by the sound of shifting covers, the fit on my bed turning out to be a lot more difficult than the one on hers. We try multiple positions before finally settling in with me against the wall and her huddled in front of me, her back nestled against my chest. I rest one arm under the pillow and the other around her waist, taking comfort in feeling her warmth against me.
“So what's going on tomorrow?” I ask in a low voice, feeling as though the air around us might shatter if I talk too loudly.
My question is met by a nonchalant shrug, followed by more wiggling around as she tries to find a comfortable position. “I don't work on Saturday. Maybe I'll just hang out here all day; surprise Lilly and Hanako at lunch or something.”
I mentally plot out my schedule for tomorrow, although there isn't much to take note of since I don't have work or any errands to run once school lets out. “I think they would enjoy that.”
As my heart calms little by little, I can feel a number of thoughts welling up in my mind. “Hey, Akira?”
“Mm?” She says, hanging on to the conscious world by only a small thread.
“Thank you for coming by. I'm glad that we got to talk tonight.” I say, so quietly that it barely registers as a whisper.
A light breath escapes her lips and her arm moves to mine as if considering flipping around. All I'm given for the gesture, though, is a shallow-voiced “I'll kiss you in the morning. Too tired to do it now.”