"Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 24b (20181116)

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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter 45 (20160315)

Post by NekoDude » Tue Mar 15, 2016 7:28 am

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

2007-12-15

        The send-off is fairly a fairly modest affair, consisting only of the Radio Club and their invited friends, but it is fitting for the occasion. The honorees have only a couple hours to spend, and it’s not like they’re leaving forever.
        “You didn’t have to do this,” Lilly protests as she enters the Tea Room, having found out about the event only minutes before.
        “We know that,” Neko affirms. “We just wanted you to remember home, where you belong, and not be too tempted by strange lands. It’s not like we brought gifts, since they would just sit in unoccupied rooms. That will have to wait for your return.”
        “We didn’t?” Apparently Tadao missed the memo, as he has a wrapped package in hand.
        Neko shrugs. “Right, most of us didn’t.” Recognizing the cylinder to most likely contain spirits, she adds, “You might wish to take this one with you anyhow.”
        “Not so m-much,” Hanako quietly adds. Apparently she knows what he’s holding also, but I wonder what she means.
        “In any case,” Neko continues with a bit of desperation, “unless you want to leave and come back in again so we can shout ‘Surprise’ or something, we should probably carry on. Just follow your nose!” She gestures at the table with four catering trays, and gives Hisao the nod to start peeling off the lids, and to Molly to start the music and lower the lights. When the sound system erupts with the wail of bagpipes, Neko initially regrets her decision to give Molly complete freedom of choice, but breathes a sigh of relief when that turns out to be just an introduction to something more palatable.
        Catching up to Mariko and Kenta at the table, she reminds them not to eat too much, then proceeds to overload her plate just the same. Dishing it out is not the same as eating it. Apparently Hisao has similar ideas as he loads a plate with kalbi before it disappears. He probably needn’t worry, as the honorees are more fixated on the pulled pork.
        The party naturally seems to segregate into social groups, and soon Neko is seated with only the ‘afterparty’ group that will continue long into the night. She spots Tadao in active conversation with Lilly and Hanako as Molly mostly sits back and absorbs their tales. At least that’s the case when he’s not acting as beverage runner. If he didn’t know where the whisky was stashed in this room before, he certainly does now. “I see everyone has disregarded my advice not to take too much, including me.”
        “No,” Hisao corrects, “you advised us not to eat too much. You said nothing about taking. Besides, I think it’s already doing its thing. Slowing it down might not be a bad idea.”
        “He has a point. What if someone catches on?” Mariko worries.
        “They won’t,” Neko reassures, “unless our guests decide not to leave and we’re stuck hosting all night. Your eyes are always like that, and the rest of us know not to stare people down. It’s true that we have time, if you don’t mind being up into the wee small hours of the morning.”
        “We also have to make the walk,” Kenta points out. With his arm around Mariko, he adds, “We know the way, but you had better be capable of following without getting lost.”
        “I said this was a dicey plan,” Hisao adds, “but you talked me into it, darling.”
        “I’m still good with it,” Neko reassures the group. “It was the only way we were going to fit in everything we needed to do, since it would have looked highly suspicious or downright cold if we had declined to participate in this send-off. Go ahead and eat, if you don’t have important plans for tomorrow. I wonder what happened to Hideki. We remembered to tell him there would be food, right?”
        After a sudden rush of air into the room, Hisao holds the back of his hand to his mouth as he speaks with his mouth full. “Someone told him, that’s for sure.” Three heads here, and undoubtedly more throughout the room, swivel and track as Takashi pulls at the tail of his coat and struts across the room.
        Now who would do a stupid thing like that? Oh, him. Hideki slinks in behind, hoping nobody is looking his way.
        “Good thing you got heaping plates of your favorites.”

        “Please excuse us,” Lilly says as she and Tadao rise with arms linked, “but I have some packing to complete before we can depart.”
        “Oh,” Hanako says worriedly. “D-do you n-need help?”
        “I’ve got all the help I will need, but thank you for your consideration. Enjoy yourself a bit longer, it’s more your party than mine.” The gift, notably, remains in the Tea Room cabinet.
        Molly waits until they’re out of earshot, and then some, knowing they have almost supernatural hearing abilities. “Psh, I know what kind of packing she has in mind.” The entire floor knows, at least the ones with working ears. Hanako glares. Uh oh, I can almost see both of her eyes. “Oh relax. I’m happy for her. Him too.” And it’s not like you’re any quieter, you just had the good sense to take it somewhere else after that first time.
        Hanako stands and makes an indecipherable hand gesture. “I’d b-better start saying g-goodbye to everyone.” She doesn’t spend very long doing so before heading out alone.
        It’s not long before Neko wanders over, taking the seat Hanako recently vacated. “What did you say to her? It isn’t sitting too well, whatever it was.”
        “I made what I thought to be a casual remark about the real reason Lilly was leaving the party early.” Molly accompanies this with a finger-poking gesture only Neko should be able to see. “Sometimes I forget that she still has a white knight streak, even if the two of them have drifted apart a bit in recent months.”
        “Well that’s dull,” Neko gripes. “I thought maybe this had something to do with that little tiff over Tadao’s gift.”
        “Why would I give them grief over not taking alcohol with them? They’ve been asked not to bring any, though they might have a hard time getting it through security anyhow.”
        “Ah. It’s not like Scotland has a shortage of it, I suppose. I’ll start letting people know we’re handing the baton to you, and this is now a Cinema Club meeting. Your people should be arriving sooner rather than later, no?”
        “They’re probably queued up outside the door, waiting. I told them there would be catering, but I also told them not to be early.”
        “If there’s a crowd out there, we’ll send them in.” Neko pats Molly on the shoulder with the carbon hand as she stands and makes her way back to her own group. Apparently she’s good to her word, as the moment they (and their hefty take-away bag) depart, the cinemaphiles begin to file in.

        Hisao is the first to open the topic once they step into the clear, cool near-winter afternoon sunlight. “Who knows our plans for the weekend? Other than us, I mean,” he adds quickly, lest it sound like he hasn’t prepared. “I know there are some people who needed to be told.”
        Kenta nods. “My brother, of course. He might need to drop in, but he knows not to make too big a disturbance. In return, he asks that we not drink all of his headache in a can – err, I mean beer.”
        “My brother knows where I’m going as well,” Mariko volunteers, “but not exactly why or with whom. I let him draw his own conclusions.”
        “Mum knows,” Neko says as she shrugs, “but that can hardly be helped. How is everyone doing?”
        “Am I grinning like a fool?” Mariko asks. “I sure feel like it.”
        “You just left a party, and you’re headed out for a weekend with your boyfriend. Why wouldn’t you be smiling?”
        Kenta has his own reason to add. “The volume level was getting a bit oppressive. It felt a bit like the walls were closing in. I’m glad to be out of there, so my smile is quite genuine. I’m definitely feeling it, though.”
        Neko laughs. “That would explain the dance. That was quite entertaining.”
        Kenta laughs as well. “I probably would have done that anyhow. I spent so much time learning it, I can’t very well not do it when that song comes on.” He jogs out a little bit in front of the group, then turns to face them. “«Dance,»” he sings as he goes through his moves. “«Got canned heat in my heels tonight, baby.»” He finishes just as they catch up, and falls back in with them as if nothing had happened.
        “You just did it again?” Mariko asks with a pout.
        “Only a little bit of it,” Neko says, but it’s hard to keep her own grin out of her voice.
        “Not being able to see generally sucks,” Mariko mopes, “but some times suck harder than others.”
        Once they arrive at the room, Neko takes command again. “We’ll keep this short, unless someone needs to use the loo.” As they step inside, Hisao takes a moment to let his eyes adjust to the relative darkness, then slings his backpack in addition to picking up the food he briefly set down. Neko, meanwhile, is a flurry of motion, quickly packing a few items that could not be packed in advance, such as the charger for her arm’s battery packs. “Here, catch!” she says as she launches something in his direction before continuing with her task. The brown paper sack arrives on a soft arc and is easily caught. He doesn’t even have to look inside to know what the contents are.
        Cookies, yes. We will need those. He drops them in with the rest of the food just as he hears a squeal outside, causing him to scamper to the door. Flinging it open, he finds Kenta on the ground, flat on his back, with Mariko on her back directly on top of him. He has a hold of her wrists and is leading her through a somewhat simplified version of the dance as he recites the lyrics to the song, humming where there aren’t any.
        I guess it’s my turn to wear the foolish grin.

***

        “Mmm, you were better prepared for this than I expected,” Neko says in a rather spaced out tone from her position under the covers. Since there wasn’t room for all four of them on the couch in its normal state, it has already been extended into a bed. This makes more than enough room for all of them – two within it, and two at the end.
        “«Milkdrop» is pretty sweet,” Kenta agrees as colors swirl about the television in time to the music. “I’m surprised you weren’t already…” His voice trails off as his train of thought goes careening off the tracks. “Yeah, this is pretty woo.You all took more than me, too.
        “Woo,” Mariko agrees quietly, leaning on him heavily. “You feel like velvet. Or like a cat. A dancing, velvet cat.” She starts rubbing her face against him the way a cat might, and giggles.
        Hisao chuckles. “She always feels like a cat to me,” he says, immediately followed by a slurp and a lift of his head as he stops himself from drooling on Neko’s shoulder.
        “I need a smoke break,” Neko says as she begins peeling him off of her.
        Not in here. “Balcony.” Kenta points toward the back door.
        “Right.” Slipping out of the bed in nothing more than a long shirt and pantsu, she dons a perilously thin silk robe and single slipper against the evening chill and collects her mint tin from the end table. “Anyone else?”
        “I’ll go, just for some air,” Mariko volunteers before kissing Kenta and heading toward Neko’s last known location.
        “We won’t be long,” Neko says as she uses Mariko for balance and stability and they make their way to the door together.
        There is a moment of silence once the door closes and the current track ends, finally broken by Hisao. “You like?”
        “I like.” I get why my parents like it too. Kenta watches the screen for a bit, then closes his eyes and lets the light show continue under its own power, finally letting himself fall back onto the mostly vacant bed. “What are your colors?”
        “Magenta and lime, same as before. You?”
        “Indigo and yellow-orange.” Perhaps this is influenced by all the times I have amused myself on a run by looking for Haidinger’s brush in the sky.
        “Lucky you. Sounds prettier.”
        This is all that passes for conversation between them before the girls return a few minutes later. “Brass monkey weather out there,” Neko says with a visible shiver. “Hard freeze tonight, I’d wager.” Sure looks it. You could cut diamonds with those.
        In response to something Neko whispers to her, Mariko suddenly charges forward, slowing only slightly as she approaches the couch-bed and falling spread-eagle onto Kenta as if she could see exactly where he was.
        “Unf!” He gets some of the wind knocked out of him in surprise and has to spin his head away from a wayward elbow, but he has become accustomed to making such quick dodges.
        “Let’s dance!” Mariko exclaims.
        “I’ve got a better idea.” He sits up despite the extra weight pressing down on him, wraps his arms around her as she squeals, and tosses her over his shoulder like a sack of rice before carrying her off to the bedroom. As she pounds on his back theatrically, he pauses only momentarily to close the curtain hanging in the passage to the dining room.

        “What did you say to Mariko?” Hisao asks as Neko heel-toes her way around, dumping the mint tin and taking a seat on the edge of the bed.
        “I said ‘same place, lying down’. She planned her ‘attack’ out there in the cold, I just had to aim her and tell her where to dive.”
        “What if he’d been sitting up?”
        “I would have told her, and she would have bowled him over.”
        “And being carried off caveman style, was that part of the plan?”
        Neko laughs as she tosses the robe aside and climbs back under the covers. “Oh yes. I’d say that was the whole point of the plan. I sure wasn’t going to complain. We’re finally alone.” She snuggles up to him, shoving her icy cold hand under the small of his back, and the short arm, nearly as cold at its end, into the waistband of his running shorts.
        “Bloody hell! C-cold!” He squirms, but she has him fairly well pinned in place.
        “Too right,” she says, further placing her popsicle toes on his calf muscle. “You called it. I’m a cat. Can I help it if you’re made of warm?”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter 46 (20160328)

Post by NekoDude » Tue Mar 29, 2016 12:47 am

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

2007-12-16

        It is Hanako’s first landing, because it was her first flight, but she knows it probably isn’t her last – at least if she ever wants to get home. It is also her first landing by sideslip, but that particular detail is one she could do with not repeating, and if she has to, she’d rather not have a window seat. Lilly, meanwhile, is blissfully unaware that they just landed in a manner that Hanako could only describe as ‘almost sideways’. She has to be shaken to wake up.
        “Mmm, what?” Lilly grumbles.
        “We’re on the g-ground.” By some miracle or accident, we’re still in one piece, too. “They’re connecting the r-ramp.”
        “Last,” Lilly answers before the question can be asked, “let’s go last. I don’t want people shoving me from behind.”
        And I know they will. Everyone wants to get out of this sardine can after fourteen hours in the air, particularly after a landing like that. Although she could include herself among ‘everyone’, she’s not about to leave Lilly behind to fend for herself.
        Suddenly the aircraft rolls in the wind, swaying a few times on its shocks before coming to rest again, and the Captain’s voice comes over the intercom. “We are now cleared to disembark. Please be advised we are still seeing high wind conditions outside, so mind that first step onto the ramp. We got you here, and we’d sure hate to lose you now.”
        People quickly move to unload the overhead bins, so they patiently wait. Then parents of young children set up their strollers in the aisles, so they wait some more, if a bit less patiently. Finally, the aisles are clear, so they fetch their own carry-ons and make their way out. As the plane empties of both passengers and the luggage below, it rolls more noticeably in the wind, to such a degree that the first step onto the fixed part of the ramp is somewhat treacherous. Hanako leads, takes the luggage for both of them and sets it along the wall of the exit ramp, and returns to guide Lilly by both hands across the shifting boundary, while the few passengers who waited even longer than they did look on in annoyance. We’re doing the best that we can.
        Another tedious hurry-up-and-wait event awaits them at the baggage carousel. Hanako spots Lilly’s hideous floral-print luggage first, and grabs it as it comes around. She can’t see it, and nobody else would want to steal it, she had reckoned when they had bought it. It was also cheap, presumably because nobody else fancied it either. Oh look, it got scuffed. What a shame. Her own luggage takes longer, and she has a few false starts as she misidentifies someone else’s as her own. Maybe that’s what’s taking so long, people keep pulling it out and putting it back. She gets it right the fourth time around, and as they exit the carousel area she spots a man holding a sign reading ‘Satou/Ikezawa’. Even if it lacked both names, she would have figured it out because this is the only driver bearing a sign in kanji.
        “H-hello,” she greets him. “I believe you are w-waiting for us.”
        “You must be Ikezawa Hanako,” the man says in a thick European accent of some sort.
        “Y-yes,” she says, starting to bow then interrupting herself as she realizes he is unlikely to understand the gesture. She is about to ask his name when it clicks. I’ve seen him before, if only in profile. “Prawo Jazdy!”
        Bartosz throws his his hands in the air and laughs hard enough to fill the terminal. “You catch me!” After proper introductions can be made, he looks back and forth at the luggage they bear, ultimately selecting Lilly’s to carry so that she can walk unimpeded.
        Though the terminal was sparsely populated, the parking structure is anything but. They have to make quite a trek to reach the car, which turns out to be a slate gray Mitsubishi Lancer.
        “Is th-this the s-same car?” Hanako hesitantly asks.
        “Yes, yes,” Bartosz answers with a grin. “Is still good. I trust. It trusts me.” He holds open the front passenger’s door, so Hanako helps get Lilly seated and buckled in. “Door likes to close by itself. Annoying. Will get fixed when there is time.”
        “Is that b-because of the accident?”
        “Yes. They put new door, leave old springs, not working so good.” He holds the rear door for her in similar fashion.
        “Th-this one too?”
        “No. Just holding for a friend.” He closes the door once she is inside and makes the trip around to his own seat. Once inside, he picks up where he left off. “You told her about ‘Prawo Jazdy’.” He points at Lilly. “She told Hiroyuki, Hiroyuki told police, they let me go. When I try to tell them, they not listen.”
        “M-maybe it was just a m-misunderstanding.”
        Bartosz sighs as he finishes backing out of the spot, and faces forward once again. “You are optimist. They think, English not so good, must be stupid and criminal Polack. Not helping that Prawo Jazdy have many, many traffic tickets. They are the stupid ones.”
        If they don’t know what ‘Prawo Jazdy’ means, then obviously you’re not the stupid one. You did, after all, take the time to learn their language. They couldn’t be bothered to learn two words of yours.
        Sparing a glance at the clock on the radio, Hanako wonders what they’re going to do for the next several hours. It’s two in the morning here, but it’s ten to them. Even a notorious morning-hater like Lilly is going to take some time to adjust.
        Bartosz, however, seems to be aware of their dilemma. “Pubs are closed. There is Indian, there is kebab, and there is saveloy, but we must hurry.”
        “What do you mean?” Lilly inquires.
        “He’s t-telling us what our options are at t-two in the morning,” Hanako informs her.
        “Aren’t we going to the house?”
        “And do what?” Bartosz asks. “Wait and worry? No, is my job and my pleasure to keep you busy until we visit hospital. Seven hours. We meet Hiroyuki and Karla there. He will not drive at night.”
        Why is he driving at all? Oh, right.
        “So, what to eat?” he continues.
        Lilly and Hanako speak simultaneously, Lilly declaring for saveloy and Hanako declaring for Indian. It’s up to Bartosz to save the day.
        “Right. We get kebab.”
        He wasn’t kidding about the hurry though. They are forced to eat in the car or stand in the cold, as the dining area has been shut down for the night. It seems like this is hardly the first time Bartosz has taken a meal in his car, however. Wait, his car? “Isn’t this Akira’s car?” Hanako asks between bites.
        “No, company car. She not driving, car released from shop, I drive. If she want it back, I drive something else. Probably buy when they replace, though. Accident history, they sell cheap, but I know still good car.”
        “This doesn’t taste like coffee,” Lilly says only after tasting and blotting the corners of her mouth politely.
        “Lebanese white coffee, not really coffee at all,” Bartosz confirms. “Not sure what it is, but not coffee. They call it coffee anyhow. Maybe they know people only think coffee or tea, so they must call it one or the other or nobody orders.”
        Hanako takes a moment to sip her drink for the first time, and although she is prepared for this not-coffee, the pungent scent of orange oil is overwhelming. The taste is just odd – not particularly unpleasant, but not something she’d make a habit of drinking, either. “I w-would have called it tea,” she says softly.
        “They have something they call Lebanese tea. It come from South America and is not tea. Taste more like coffee, but make you sleepy. No wonder English so hard.” This gets a laugh from both of the girls, which in turn makes Bartosz smile. “We get real tea in a few hours.”

        “One chicken katsu,” Hisao announces as he delivers brunch-in-bed, “and a large scoop of macaroni salad. Try not to get any katsu sauce on the sheets.”
        “Wouldn’t matter that much,” Neko says as she sits up and takes delivery, “the sheets are mine. I gave them to Kenta last weekend, and we’ll be taking them with us when we go back.” She dips a hot sliver of breaded chicken cutlet into cold sauce and takes a bite. After nodding and chewing for a while, she sighs. “One best-boyfriend point to you.”
        If I get one for that, Kenta must have gotten at least three for his dance routine on the lawn. “What’s the current exchange rate?”
        “One stress relief quickie is one point, usually. Less if I need one too.”
        More like zero if you need one too, but maybe you only count in full points. Surely he must have some points banked up from the messy shower sessions that are always better for her than they are for him. Overall, things have slowed down as might be expected by this point, but he’s still getting more activity than he would have thought possible before he met her.
        “What was last night, or early this morning, whatever you call it?”
        “Sanity break, for both of us. No charge.” She holds out a pre-dipped bite for him, which he accepts.
        “I’m going to heat up some kalbi for myself,” he says as he stands. “Want anything while I’m in there?”
        “Actually, a beer would be kinda nice with this.”
        Not only did we not drink all the beer, we didn’t even touch it last night. “You got it.” Once he has put his plate in the microwave to warm up, he grabs two cans from the refrigerator and heads back out, rather than having to worry about carrying them later.
        “Ooh, expedited service,” Neko croons. “Half-point bonus.” This time she leans forward for a kiss.
        I guess you do deal in fractional points.

***

        This time of year, the sun sneaks over the horizon at a severe slant, barely seems to make it out of the cradle, then lazily calls it a day and heads back down again, sliding out much the way it came in. The one saving grace is the long twilight as it hangs just below the horizon, waiting to do its daily magic trick. The weather reminds Bartosz of his hometown on the Polish coast, as the Gulf Stream moderates temperatures, but the daylight situation is considerably worse – a whole country worse. The near entirety of Denmark lies between the two latitudes involved. I guess this is what they have to endure to get away from the Poms. Even the Romans didn’t want this place.
        Nonetheless, the town is starting to come to life long before the lazy fireball in the sky, and after hours of driving from one closed venue to another and taking them past the place he and the others were run off the road, they’re finally able to take a proper seat at a proper restaurant and get proper coffee – or tea, as is Lilly’s preference, and enough fuel to hold them until afternoon tea, if necessary. This could be a long day.
        Despite his warning, the girls insist they are still feeling the kebab from five hours before, and are sharing a single breakfast plate. “Wh-what’s this black thing?” Hanako asks hesitantly.
        “Black pudding,” Bartosz answers after poking the yolk of his egg to let it run, intending to mop it up with toast.
        “Try it,” Lilly suggests. “It won’t hurt.”
        Hanako hesitantly cuts a thin sliver off the edge and tastes it. Her eyes close and eyebrows rise before she shakes her head. “N-no. Not my thing.”
        Lilly sighs. “I was afraid you might say that. It’s not exactly to my liking either. I was hoping to trade my share for a bit more bacon or tattie.”
        Bartosz isn’t inclined to part with either of those items, but he has no great love for the porridge when such rich food is at hand. It’s not bad, and most times he will eat it, but it’s the first thing up on the trading block if the opportunity arises. He grabs the bowl by the rim and raises it. “Trade?” He waves his fork at the black pudding to make the point.
        “Oh, yes,” Lilly replies, obviously not seeing his offer.
        “He’s offering o-oatmeal,” Hanako quietly informs her, “not meat.”
        “I’ll still take the deal.” With that, the fourth tea saucer on the table is subverted to serve as a makeshift plate, and it switches places with the bowl of porridge.
        Black pudding is nothing to me. Sausages are spiced to hide that the meat has started to go off, and we had to eat sausages that still tasted like they’d gone off. A good black pudding is caviar by comparison. Such was life for the families of those willing to lay their lives on the line for Solidarity. When BBWR took over for the Communists, the oppression relented, but there was little in the pot to go around.
        Bartosz watches while pretending not to, as Hanako quietly discusses the location of various items on the plate so that Lilly can find them. While not quite certain, he suspects they have lapsed back into their native language. Due to the chatter and assistance, it takes the two of them longer to clear one plate than it takes him to do it alone, so he sips coffee and munches on the unlimited supply of toast brought to the table. Once they have cleared their plate, he waits for the inevitable consequence of caffeine on girl bladders to take effect and be relieved before recommending they move along.
        Once they reach the hospital, Bartosz circles around the lot, looking for parking, but there is not a spot to be found except those specifically reserved for special purposes. After weighing all other options, he pulls into one of the two spots reserved for clergy, and is unsurprised to see a security guard headed his direction. They haven’t had time to assist Lilly in exiting the vehicle before the guard arrives. “You know that spot is reserved for –”
        “Yes, I know.” Bartosz quickly produces a printed and laminated card that proclaims him an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church.
        “You aren’t dressed for the job,” the guard responds with obvious suspicion.
        “Yes, I know. Was having breakfast, got the call, came straight here.”
        The guard appears to weigh his options for a moment, then nods. “Right, leave the card on your dash and you shan’t get towed. Have a blessed day.” He wanders off, apparently satisfied by his problem-solving skills.
        “I d-didn’t know you were a minister,” Hanako says with a bit of wonder as she helps Lilly out of the car, Bartosz holding the door as before.
        “I didn’t know anyone cared,” he says with a shrug, “but is useful at times. You want to be also? I can ordain, costs a quid to file the papers.”
        Hanako makes no verbal reply, but her glance at Lilly is telling. Right, I’ll get back to you later about that.
        Inside, Bartosz is prepared to wait for visiting hours to start at 9 AM, but the nurse at the desk recognizes him from his many visits and beckons him over. “Go on in, you can help her pack.”
        “Pack?” For what?
        The nurse looks a bit surprised. “For her discharge, of course. I’m completing the papers right now.”
        “I see.” He reaches for his phone and dials Hiroyuki, who answers on the third ring.
        He doesn’t even wait for hello. “Is there a problem?” he asks, sounding quite concerned.
        “No, not at all. They ready to send her home. We are already here, can drive her back if you are not want to make the trip.”
        “Oh!” Bartosz can hear Hiroyuki’s thumb slip over the microphone momentarily while he consults with Karla. “Good, let’s do that. It gives us time to prepare. I trust everything else is going smoothly?”
        “Very much. We will see you soon then.”
        When the trio makes it to the room, the first thing to be seen is an empty, unmade bed. Stepping inside, he spots Akira sitting in a corner chair, looking exhausted, but her red eyes brighten as Hanako grabs Lilly’s hand and rushes both of them toward her. “So how was your trip?”
        “N-not so bad,” Hanako starts, “except the lot was f-full. He had to use c-clergy parking.”
        “See,” Akira addresses to Bartosz, “I told you that would come in handy someday. You’re the minister, so do something holy.”
        Like what? It’s not like you need last rites. He glances at the still open travel case and grabs a lint roller. After dousing it under a tap, he proceeds to fling small quantities of water at everyone. Lilly squeals in surprise when it lands on her, and Akira laughs so hard she starts coughing.
        Although it takes another fifteen minutes to get the discharge finalized, it takes almost that long to make sure nothing is being left behind as Akira supervises from her seat while Hanako and Bartosz do the actual work, then help her transfer into a wheelchair. Just outside the doors of the hospital, Bartosz is able to point at the car, which is perhaps thirty meters away. “Can you walk that far?” he asks.
        “Can I?” Akira responds. “Probably. Do I want to? Not really.” She glances down at her injured ankle, still in a soft cast.
        Bartosz shrugs and resigns himself to having to make an extra trip to return the wheelchair, but Hanako has a better idea once they get her moved into the car. “I’ll take it b-back, just f-follow me.”

        On the drive back, Hanako is unsure which of them is clutching onto the other’s hand more, but it is clear that neither one wants to let go. Once the heat starts to take hold in the cabin, Akira removes her stocking cap to reveal a completely shaved head and dozens of stitches forming two sides of a triangle, causing Hanako to gasp in surprise.
        “I didn’t care for the Johnny Rotten look, so I had them shave the rest of it too,” Akira says, anticipating the question. “Do I look more like Sinéad, or that copycat Britney?” Bartosz cranes his neck to get a glance in the rear view mirror, but says nothing.
        I guess it’s up to me. “I –” Hanako starts, tips her head a bit, then resumes. “I don’t know.”
        “You don’t know which one I look more like, or you don’t know who they are?” Yeah, that second one. “We’ll have to fix half of that when we get home. You could go the rest of your life without knowing who Britney Spears is and it would suit me just fine.”
        After a minute or so of silence, Bartosz turns on the radio and sings along. While his pitch isn’t too bad, his diction is ludicrous, as if he were making up words that sound vaguely like the real ones because he doesn’t understand them.
        “Oh, not this again,” Akira moans in mock agony.
        Quickly turning the radio down, Bartosz replies, “You talk, or I sing. Been awake too long, I need something to keep me going.”
        “We’ll sing,” Lilly unexpectedly answers, “or at least I will.” She takes over when the guitar solo ends, and the two of them sing together, an octave apart and with considerable divergence in their lyrics, until the selection unexpectedly segues into Bawitdaba. Oddly, Bartosz seems to know all the words to this one, if you can call them words, while Lilly falls silent.
        They are just pulling up to the house when Bartosz humorously pounds a beat on the steering wheel and announces “My name is PRAAAA… Prawo Jazdy!” before cutting the ignition, causing the radio to go out at the same time. Within seconds, Hiroyuki and Karla appear to greet them, the latter carrying a pair of crutches to pass to Akira after helping her exit the vehicle. Akira takes the crutches but refuses any further assistance. “Bugger all, I’m going to do this under my own power,” she proclaims before leading the way – except for Bartosz quickly passing her to reach the front door first and open it, then releasing the luggage from its spot in the rear with a tap of the remote. Karla is now busy assisting Lilly, and after a hug, Hiroyuki reverts to leaning on his cane, so it falls to Hanako to carry the luggage for the both of them, as well as tucking Akira’s travel pack under her arm.
        Inside, the atmosphere warms, in both the literal and emotional senses. Although it appears hastily improvised, the meaning of the WELCOME HOME banner with three printed photographs beneath is quite clear.
        “Did you print those on company equipment, Papa?” Akira asks with a chiding tone as she waves a crutch at them. “Tsk tsk, what would they think?”
        “They’d think I was trying to talk you into taking the Ireland job,” he says with a shrug, “which would meet with their approval.”
        “Are you still on about that, dear?” Karla asks critically.
        “I’m over it. I haven’t merely given up the effort, but have actively switched sides. Don’t be fooled if I am forced to act disappointed when she formally declines the offer.”
        “Aunt May won’t be faking,” Akira volunteers as she takes a seat on the near end of the sofa, “as she’d love to have us follow her there.”
        “Your dear Aunt May always wants what’s best for Aunt May,” Hiroyuki says wryly, at first reaching out to ruffle Akira’s hair, then withdrawing his hand midway when he remembers there won’t be any beneath the cap. Instead, he pulls up a seat across from her. “I’ve known her far longer than you have, and this has never changed. I highly doubt it’s going to change now.”
        May… Mayoi? Your sister, and Shizune’s mother? You’re making her sound like someone else I know. The light bulb goes on over Hanako’s head, even if she is the only one that realizes it. No wonder you have such misgivings about dealing with Sally. It also may explain some of the animosity between the two camps. She’ll have to make a point of asking, once they get home.
        On her left, a different conversation is taking place. “Come,” Karla says to Lilly, and they head for the kitchen together. Bartosz glances around briefly before opting to follow behind them. Hanako has time to take up position in the middle of the couch next to Akira before he reappears.
        “Hot apple cider. We make, who wants?” He receives a unanimous show of hands in response before returning to the kitchen to deliver the message, reappearing shortly thereafter with a tray bearing six teacups and a bowl of cinnamon sticks. This time he stays, pulling up another chair around the low coffee table.
        “I trust he kept you busy,” Hiroyuki addresses to Hanako, “just as I requested. I’m sorry for the lack of transparency in our planning, but the way things have been going lately, we’ve had to make up a plan as we go. If we don’t know what we’re going to do until right before it happens, we can’t very well inform you either.”
        Hanako glances down at her hands briefly, then speaks. She is a few words in before she finds the nerve to make eye contact. “It w-was – it was p-pleasant enough. W-we got a tour.”
        “You got a tour,” Hiroyuki points out. “Lilly has to walk the path to get anything out of it. Driving by a location and reading about it in a book have about the same impact for her. No worries, she has been most of those places before, and there really isn’t anything noteworthy about the stretch of motorway unless you were there when it happened. Just the same, thank you for accepting the unexpected in good humor,” he says with a nod before turning toward Bartosz, “and thank you for staying up all night so we didn’t have to.”
        Bartosz responds with a yawn and a nod.
        Hiroyuki lifts his head toward the opening to the hallway leading to the office. “It’s yours if you need to catch a few winks between now and lunch, or between lunch and tea.”
        After glancing around, Bartosz declares, “Cider first.”

        Why did he look to me for approval before making up his mind? Akira wonders. Maybe he didn’t. He seems to be looking my way every chance he gets.
        Even when Mama and Lils join the party, Akira can barely pay attention to the chatter. During another of those inscrutable moments of eye contact, Akira takes Hanako’s hand in hers to make the point. I’m taken – and chasing the boss’s daughter is never clever. After a while she relinquishes her grip, so that both of them can warm their hands on their cups of cider. Suddenly Papa’s fingers tap her arm.
        “Are you with us, dear?” he asks with concern.
        “I – my mind was elsewhere. Pardon?”
        “We were asking if you were still having trouble with your balance. It said on the instructions that the blood thinners can induce this effect.”
        If they have, it has been but an annoyance compared to what I was dealing with before. “No, not as such. I mean,” she clarifies with a rap of knuckles on the plastic part of the soft cast, “this still pulls me to one side, but that is to be expected.” This seems to satisfy everyone, and her mind soon wanders again. The next thing that gets through to her is from Mama.
        “I suppose she’s not in a mood to discuss that at present, so perhaps it would be better if you took that up in private.”
        Huh? What did I miss this time? Should I let the moment pass? “Uh, I have been caught out again. What was the question?”
        Lilly repeats her question, perhaps taking a moment to paraphrase it. “I have had disturbing dreams of late, after hearing that you had to endure your surgery awake. Is it really as bad as I imagine?”
        “I don’t know if it was as bad,” Akira admits, “but it was much stranger than I could have imagined. To have people hovering at the periphery of my vision, while unable to move more than my fingers, eyes, and mouth because of the restraints, was very disconcerting. Add to that the constant barrage of questions I had to answer to make sure that I was still firing on all cylinders, and it made for quite a surreal scene, one I hope I never have to experience again. I have been forewarned that I may, though. These things sometimes grow back.” She closes her eyes and succumbs to a sudden wave of chill that splashes over her. When she opens them again, she finds that she and Hanako are once again linked hand in hand, although she cannot recall who initiated this. She leans back into the cushions and slouches as she exhales deeply and quite audibly, suddenly feeling far beyond her years.
        “I hate to cut a good party short,” Mama suddenly chimes in, “but all three of you look like you could use a little lie down.” She gestures at Akira, Hanako, and Bartosz. “Shall we wake you for lunch, or wait until you come out on your own?”
        “Wake me, please,” Bartosz replies as he rises. No great surprise there, he’s always hungry.
        “We’ll probably make it on time with or without a ring,” Akira offers, “but send a message if we’re late.” The unstated bit, we’ll make it or we won’t, seems to get through.
        After helping Akira to stand, Hanako fetches her own bag and Akira’s travel pack, and they head off toward their shared room together. The moment they are behind closed doors, they take the time to embrace properly. By the end of it, Hanako is sobbing.
        “What’s the matter, darling?” Akira asks as they revert to their native language.
        “Th-three weeks. Then I’ll be g-gone again.” Hanako stares at her shoes.
        Akira kisses Hanako gently on the forehead. “It’s one week more than we originally planned, and it should only be another five or so more before I go home.” I may not have the house to myself, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

        Lilly taps at the door again, then waits a moment. “I’ll leave this for you, then, and you may collect it at your leisure.” She begins to edge her way around the wheeled cart to get back to the hallway, when the door opens. After the swirl of air from the opening door reaches her, it takes just a couple seconds for it to be followed by the scent of cannabis.
        “Thanks Lils,” Akira says softly. “You’re the best.” The tray rolls past with a faint squeaking sound.
        How dare you do that to poor Hanako? She’s much too polite to ask you to stop if it bothers her, which I imagine it does. “It’s already starting to grow cold.” I’m not apologizing though, you brought this on yourself.
        “Tea functions just as well cold as it does hot, as you told me yourself. We’ll survive. Thanks again.”
        Lilly turns her back and takes a few steps away from the door, but as soon as she hears it close she returns and puts an ear to it.
        “D-does she kn-now?” Hanako queries.
        “About me?” Akira responds. “Of course. It’s not like I’ve made a huge secret of it. You, I’m not so sure. Have you said anything?” After a pause, presumably for a shake of the head, she continues. “It might be time to do that. Let me know if you need support.”
        She’s an active participant? Shivering more from disbelief than rage, Lilly tiptoes her way back, using only the lightest of fingertip touches on the wall to guide her.

***

        “Aunt May,” Akira oozes while holding up her arms, before lowering them again to crutch her way over.
        “Akira darling,” Aunt May answers with equally as much saccharine, “It’s so good to see you on your feet, or at least one foot. Please forgive me for not getting up,” she adds without a hint of sarcasm as she gazes over from her wheelchair. “Ah, you must be our pretty little bird,” she says with a wave of her hand, addressing Hanako. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
        Shall I sing for my supper too? Hanako tries not to think too hard about the possible meaning of this greeting as she gives a slight bow. There will be time for that later.
        Lilly, apparently tired of the pleasantries even before they began, follows her mother’s voice to a seat at the table. This leaves the two spots to Mayoi’s left conspicuously empty, as her nurse looks on from her right. After glancing at each other, Akira quickly takes the seat closer to her aunt.
        “So,” Mayoi continues at a volume level clearly designed to get the attention of everyone at the table, “shall we begin?” She gestures to a waiter who had been hiding in the shadows, who steps into the light and nods. “Eight,” she says, then makes a show of correcting herself. “No, on second thought, you had best make that seven.” She locks eyes on Karla as she makes this amendment.
        “Agreed,” interjects Bartosz from his seat just to Karla’s left. “I’ll pass.” Hanako can almost see the steam rising from Mayoi’s collar, but she draws a deep breath and swallows it back.
        “I should probably wash my hands,” Akira states, pushing her chair back from the table less than a minute after painstakingly pulling it in. “Could I get your assistance, please?” She extends a hand to Hanako as she gestures toward the wall where her crutches are leaning with the other hand.
        “C-certainly.” Hanako rises and helps Akira to her feet (or foot), then grabs the crutches and passes them to her. They just barely make it around the corner into the hallway leading to the restrooms before Akira pulls to a halt, tucking both crutches under one arm and pinning Hanako’s shoulder to the wall.
        “Don’t let her get to you. She is testing you. Don’t let her know you’re aware of it.” Akira seals it with a quick embrace, then gets her crutches back under her to continue their trek.
        “Why did she c-call me ‘little bird’?” Hanako asks as she holds the door.
        “She thinks you’re ‘singing’ for another flock. She and Sally are long-standing rivals, and I dare say Sally has gotten the better end of the deal at almost every turn. She is convinced that this must be due to a grand conspiracy, not her own decisions.” Akira turns on the water and begins washing up, even splashing her face once it gets warm. “Between her and Jigoro, Shizune and Hideaki got stuck with the lesser of two evils. He’s a pompous arse, but he’s not malicious.” She eases out of the way to dry and allow Hanako full access to the sink.
        “R-rivals? For what?”
        “Power, money, men, you name it. They were always after the same things.” Akira shuts off the water with a handful of paper towels. “Aunt May didn’t even lose the chase for Sam Rogers, she wilfully forfeited by eloping with that big buffoon – yet she still holds that against both of them to this day.”
        “Y-you mean…” Hanako mimes the pompadour hairdo and the strut she saw the street dancers display, causing Akira to laugh.
        “I see you’ve met him, then.”
        “N-no, just seen p-pictures.”
        “He’s just like you imagine, or at least he was. I met him once, when I was knee high to a grasshopper – before Aunt May threw the match. Come now,” Akira says as she gives Hanako a pat on the shoulder, “we’d better get back before they miss us.”
        As they rejoin the table, the drinks have already arrived. True to his word, Bartosz has surrendered his to Karla, and Mayoi is prepared to lead the toast. “So,” she addresses to the pair, “will the little bird be joining us on the Emerald Isle?”
        Hanako hesitates, and is just inhaling to respond when Akira leaps to intercept. “No, Aunt May, she won’t. Why would she want to do that when I won’t be there? Surely not to bask in your radiance.”
        “Ah well, your loss. They’re quite accepting of ah… unconventional pairings, right Petra?” Mayoi glances and grins at her ‘nurse’ at her right. “But that’s your problem now. To the future, whatever it may bring!” she declares, raising her shot glass shakily.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter 476 (20160409)

Post by NekoDude » Sat Apr 09, 2016 5:14 am

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

2007-12-22

        “She is really that afraid to go home?” Neko asks with a shake of the head. “I mean, I know it hasn’t gone well in the past, but…” She stops when she sees Hisao unconsciously fidgeting with his nose. “Oh yeah, right. Best you go alone.”
        “It’s not like she has a family to greet her down there anyhow. It costs the same whether she goes, or her Mum comes up, so they’ve opted for the latter. It will be the first time Mayuki has seen her sister in three years, so they’re both looking forward to it.”
        “And you?”
        “Mixed. I mean, I’ll be happy to see my folks, but not so happy to know they’ll be moving out as soon as I’m gone.” I don’t know why it really matters, I have no plans to live there ever again. Still, it feels like a phase of his life is coming to a close.
        “Me too. I know I have to do this, and the sooner the better, really – but that doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it in the slightest.” She puts her fist to her sternum, glancing down at the dark scar running most of the way from elbow to wrist. “I hope this doesn’t make it any worse.”
        “You went bowling and it was your back that broke down, not your arm. You should be alright, at least as far as that goes. Call me as much as you need to – or as little. Take care of yourself, darling.” He leans in, unconsciously grabbing the short arm to pull her a bit closer, and gives her a kiss before picking up his bag and heading for the front gate, pulling his trenchcoat around him against the winter chill.
        Shuttle vans are scheduled every five minutes, as at least half the student body is heading out for winter break, so Hisao does not complain when he can’t get on board the next to arrive, or even the one after that.
        “Dude,” Kenji says by way of introduction as he takes the adjacent seat. How the hell does he always manage to find me?
        “Yeah?” There is no escape, so he might as well play this off as casually as possible.
        “I never did get a chance to ask you. How does she like the hand?”
        Oh hey, something I don’t mind talking about. “Well, she only uses it for one thing, which is at the snooker table. She finds it enormously useful for that one purpose, though. She can shape it more ways than the motorized one.”
        “Yeah? That’s cool. How’d you find her?”
        “Excuse me?” I didn’t find her, she found me. She saved me from you.
        “That search and rescue mission. Didn’t you, like, totally save the tree climbing girl? Some people were calling it a miracle.”
        “Oh, her. I guess we just had a hunch where to look, and it paid off. Maybe I have some sort of a sixth sense about her. It wasn’t the first time I plucked her out of trouble.” And I have the weirdest feeling it won’t be the last, either.
        “So you know her pretty well?”
        “I wouldn’t put it that way. I’ve just been in the right place at the right time twice now.” Once by accident, and once by design.
        “Oh.” Kenji looks a bit crestfallen. “But you’re not, like, with her or anything?”
        Is that what you’re getting at? You want me to set you up with her? “Dear gods no, and believe me, you don’t want to be either. She’s one messed up chick.” I wouldn’t fuck her with your dick. You think women are out to steal your life force – and it might actually be true with her.
        “No, nothing like that.” Kenji fails to notice when Hisao’s posture relaxes with relief. “I just thought maybe she had told you things. Feminist things, you know?”
        I knew it was just a matter of time. “I’m afraid not. We really don’t talk much. Truth be told, she’s not a very likable person. I don’t even know if she is a feminist, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Just the same, she doesn’t discuss the matter with me. Sorry I can’t help you. Where are you headed?” Let’s try to proactively steer this conversation.
        “To the family compound outside Sapporo. You should come up, we’d have room for you. You’d learn some survival skills, hammer a few nails, cut a few boards, throw back a few manly drinks, maybe catch a meal or two. Man stuff.”
        “I already have a date to meet up with my parents, but hey, maybe some other time.” Like next school year, ha ha.
        “Yeah, okay. You’re hoping to go to Tōhoku University, right?”
        Oh shit, he took me seriously. “That’s the plan, but we’ll have to see what my girlfriend thinks.”
        “Oh. The gaijin can come too! My sister could use a role model, someone to show her being a little different doesn’t mean shit if you’re smart like us.” Kenji taps his head and grins like a fool.
        “Uh, maybe. We’ll have to see.” Neko certainly is a prime example of compensating for physical shortcomings with mental agility, but she isn’t who I was talking about. It is of great relief to Hisao that Kenji exits at the first stop in the city, rather than staying aboard all the way to Sendai Station as would be expected by his destination.
        Once at the station, he finds himself standing outside the magazine shop with the girlie magazines in black plastic. We could meet anywhere, but it always seems to be here. He spots mother before daughter, and once certain they have spotted him as well, he makes his way through the moving masses toward them.
        The elder Daidouji greets him with open arms. “I see you are as handsome as ever,” she adds as she lets him go, making a great show of inspecting his nose. “I can’t see any difference at all.”
        “You’re embarrassing him, Ma,” Iwanako protests, but not too strenuously.
        “Mother’s prerogative. Now I’m going to spoil him.” The restaurant she leads them to is fairly crowded with travelers, and it’s not a quick dine-and-dash sort of operation, but a full sushi bar. They have to wait a few minutes in order to get three adjacent seats, so in the meantime they have time for idle chatter. “So do you think you’ll have any classes together this spring?”
        “Ma, we haven’t even taken the tests yet,” Iwanako protests. “We don’t know if either or both of us have even gotten in. Besides, there isn’t that much overlap between the courses for linguistics and chemistry.”
        “You said you were studying together. How could you be doing that if you aren’t taking some of the same tests?” Ms. Daidouji catches Iwanako’s sudden blush. “Oh, I see. I couldn’t resist that temptation either. You’re being careful, right?”
        “Ma!”
        Now it’s Hisao’s turn to blush, supplemented with inscrutable hand gestures. “I, uh… we, um…”
        The hostess comes to his rescue. “Daidouji? We currently have seating for you.”
        Hisao takes special care in selecting his plates as they float by. He selects filler items of minimum cost, but also makes sure to grab a few mid-tier dishes so as not to appear overly cost-conscious. Ms. Daidouji, however, has other plans.
        “You simply have to try this.” She grabs one of the gold-rimmed dishes with eel as it floats by, distributing the contents between the three of them.
        I can accept that, if we’re all in on it. “Thank you, I would love to.” It is rather good, and he savors the taste as it dissolves in his mouth with hardly any effort at all.
        “I’m glad to see that it agrees with you,” Ms. Daidouji says with a warm smile. “We’ll have to do this more often.”
        “I’ll be back early next week,” he offers, “and would love to pay a visit before you have to return home.”
        “No rush, dear boy. I expect we’ll see each other many more times in the future. You see, I am home.”
The shocked response comes in stereo. “What?”
        “Oh my, Mayuki managed to keep a secret. That’s a first.” Ms. Daidouji giggles. “I do have to return south to tie up some loose ends, but once the sale goes through, I will have more than enough to pay off the mortgage there and take out a new one here. As you may already know, my sister has been looking to sell her house ever since she found herself alone in it. She withdrew it from the market briefly when this all started, but now she really wants out since Gino has asked her to move in. So, I’m buying it!”
        “Seriously?” Iwanako gapes. “That’s uh… wow. I mean, it’s awesome, but wow.”
        “It’s not that wow. For the price of the condo down there, I could buy two houses up here. I didn’t have anything more tying me to the place than you did. Even if I make a bit less money, it’s worth it. Speaking of which, is anyone hiring?”
        The word escapes before Hisao has time to think about the wisdom of it. “Maybe.” He immediately sighs as he catches Iwanako’s searing gaze, but he has already inserted his foot firmly into his mouth. “There’s this place right at the bottom of the hill where my school is, and they’ve really been taking off lately. I could ask when I get back.” He conveniently omits the fact that he’s sleeping with one of the owners.
        “Ideally I’d like something closer to home, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep all options on the table.” Ms. Daidouji wraps an arm around his shoulders and gives him a quick, sideways embrace. “Let me know how it goes.”

        At the sound of the door opening, Molly looks up from her seated position in front of the bookshelf holding the A/V equipment. “Fancy meeting you here.”
        Neko shrugs. “Yeah, well, I thought you might be lonely.”
        “And I figured you’d want to get to your private resort as quickly as possible.”
        “Maybe under other circumstances,” Neko admits, “but not today. I’ve got some uncomfortable things that need doing, and they won’t get any easier if I’m already getting tired of staring at the same four walls. So what’s on the bill for today?”
        “I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting anyone to show up. That’s why I’m going through the library for the third time.”
        There is the slight clank of metal on metal as legs collide when Neko takes a seat on the floor next to Molly and watches the pages turn. “I haven’t seen that one yet,” she says, putting a finger on Noroi: The Curse.
        Molly adopts the creepiest tone of voice she can muster, and moans “Kagutaba!” as Neko just gives her a strange look in response. “Yeah, alright. We can watch that.”
        They are twenty-three minutes into the film, and way into their shared bean bag and blanket, their legs stacked off to the side, when the psychic with the foil hat appears. Neko snickers and then giggles uncontrollably.
        It takes a moment for Molly to locate the remote and pause the film. “What, did I miss something?”
        “You didn’t tell me Setou was in this movie!”
        Molly takes a look at the paused image before snorting and breaking into giggles herself. “Damn you, now I’ll never be able to watch this with a straight face again. He really does bear a striking resemblance to Kenji, doesn’t he? Watch, it gets better.” She resumes the playback.
        A minute later, Neko is making up her own lines again, despite never having seen the movie before. “Feminist!” she exhorts as foil guy assaults the actress.
        This time Molly goes along for the ride. “She’s trying to steal my precious pigeons!”
        “Oh no! Not the pigeons!”
        Both of their heads swivel as the door opens, but it’s just El Jefe checking up on the commotion.
        “Kagutaba!” shouts Molly, now laughing so hard she chokes. Momomoto just shakes his head and closes the door as he leaves without comment, while Neko thumps her on the back with the short arm.

***

        Hisao’s father is first to greet him on the platform. “Ah, my son, good to see you.”
        “Have you eaten yet?” his mother asks after the obligatory short embrace, as they head out toward the car.
        “I’m probably good for another hour or two. Ms. Daidouji treated us to lunch before I left.”
        “Ah, yes. It is a shame we couldn’t all be here at once…” His mother’s voice trails off, leaving it to his father to pick up the thread.
        “...But under the circumstances, your lady’s aversion to the area is understandable. Unfortunate, but understandable.”
        It’s not like I have any reason to be here myself, other than the two of you. “You’re always welcome to come back up. It’s a friendly place. Things feel so frantic here, by comparison.”
        “We may well take you up on that offer, once the dust settles on our move,” his father says with a nod. “Are you going to miss the place?”
        “Maybe a little. I mean, just knowing things will be different is a bit unsettling, but such is life. I certainly can’t expect you to hold a room for me that I will rarely use.”
        “It remains yours as long as we have it, dear,” his mother states quietly.
        “And we’ll find space for you even after that,” his father adds with a pat on the back. “Both of you.”
        Provided I bring the right girl, you mean. He forces himself to smile despite the obvious implications. I know it’s what you want. I know it’s what she thinks she wants. But is it what I want?
        Do I know what I want? Does it even matter anymore?
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter 48 (20160420)

Post by NekoDude » Wed Apr 20, 2016 5:50 pm

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

2007-12-25

        There is a tap at his door. “Are you up yet?” asks his mother’s voice.
        “Indeed I am,” Hisao answers, “but I’m getting dressed at the moment.” Pajamas and bare feet had seemed preferable to trousers and socks, although he still had to wake up early to take his pills. He didn’t begin the transition until he heard footsteps.
        “Alright, we understand. We just have a little something for you.”
        After you explicitly said we weren’t doing that? I’ll never get the unspoken code, I guess. Luckily, he consults with someone who does, and she had insisted he take something just in case. He checks his phone to see if Neko has returned his message. She has. ‘Not yet begun, will start tonight. Too much to do today.’
        He grabs the wrapped bottle out of his luggage and takes it with him when he steps out to find his parents seated at the table, having tea. “Uh, I know we’ve never been much for the tradition, but, uh…” He holds out his gift, which is really Neko’s gift. “Merry Christmas?”
        “Come, sit,” his father says gently and with a smile. “We hope you like this.”
        ‘This’ turns out to be a photo album from the time they had lived in this house, starting at the age of six and carrying on through the point they picked him up at the station just a few days earlier. Who took this picture anyhow? We’re all in it.
        “We thought you might appreciate a little reminder of our time here,” his mother says, “since it hasn’t much longer to go. We’re keeping one ourselves, so when you look back at these, you can know that you’re remembering things the same way we are.”
        Despite his own expectations, Hisao is deeply touched by this gesture and suddenly feels guilty that his offering is so mundane by comparison. Nonetheless, he watches his father tear off the wrapping.
        “It’s a drink?”
        “Yes, something imported from Vietnam. It’s rather good.”
        “We’ll save it for New Year’s,” his father declares, “since you aren’t in a hurry to try it out. Thank you, we weren’t expecting anything. We rather hoped you weren’t either, as this was supposed to be a surprise.”
        “It is a surprise,” he admits, “and a rather pleasant one. It’s not just something for me to look at, but also to share.” He makes sure the album is open to a page that has Iwanako in one of the shots, to tell them what they want to hear without actually lying to them.

        “I thought you might like this.” Meiko holds out a baseball cap with large boldface letters embroidered into the front. “Koshi received it from a student and brought it home for me, but it’s just not my style. He’s fine with me passing it along to you.”
        Maybe it’s some American baseball team, Emi thinks as she accepts the small gift. They have never been much for the tradition, so the gifts are always either minimal, or jokes. This one is actually somewhat nicer than the norm.
        “Speaking of which, where is he?”
        “He has to work half the day today. They’re running a skeleton staff for winter break, but someone still has to cover, which means he gets a couple days a week. Isn’t that why you came alone too?”
        Emi nods. “He’s stuck manning the emergency call line until noon. He complained that it had to be today, but they just said ‘half day, full day’s pay’ and he gave in.”
        With the return of both of their men on their minds, Emi heads out shortly before lunchtime. Traffic is just starting to pick up by the time she makes it back, but most of it is headed in the other direction and does not particularly slow her down. She wonders why she gets a funny look from one of her neighbors as she gets in the elevator.
        Daisuke has managed to make it home before she does, but obviously not by much since he is still in ‘casual day’ attire. He turns around at the sound of the door and barely manages to stifle laughing out loud. “Where did you get that hat?” he snickers.
        “From my mother. She said she couldn’t wear it.”
        “Ah, I’m sure she could, and it would be funny.” He makes a round-belly gesture.
        Taking off the hat, Emi gives it a closer inspection . “Why, what’s it say?”
        “I’d almost rather not tell you. You might stop wearing it.”
        “Fine, be that way.” She heads to the computer to fire it up and search it out herself.
        ‘Cock may refer to: (Dutch) Cook. (English) A male of any bird species. (English) A nickname for the penis.’
        Nope, not gonna stop wearing this.

***

        7:45 AM. The clock says it’s morning, but the sky still says it isn’t. It’s something Hanako hadn’t figured on when agreeing to be the driver for this morning’s activities. Somehow she had the idea that ‘sunrise services’ meant they started at sunrise, and she would be driving in twilight. No, they mean services take place primarily before sunrise, with the congregation released into the still-red morning.
        I guess I don’t get to choose when we go, only whether I drive or Karla does – and everyone including her seemed to prefer if it were me. The delivery van easily seats six (or eight if absolutely necessary) when all the seats are in it, as they will remain for the duration of their visit. Karla occupies the other front seat, as she best knows the route.
        They arrive, nominally on time, to find the pews two-thirds full and the room reverberant with organ music. There doesn’t seem to be any hurry to get things under way, and the number of people still finding their way in seems to offer an explanation.
        “D-do they always start l-late, or just today?” she asks Akira quietly.
        “I don’t rightly know,” comes the reply. “I haven’t been here in a decade.” In any event, the delay seems to be only ten minutes, and once things do get started, everyone respectfully falls silent but for the occasional bout of coughing.
        The words don’t mean much to Hanako, though Lilly sits attentively, hands folded in her lap and apparently listening closely to every syllable. The pageantry, on the other hand, is unmistakeable. It is different from any Japanese ceremony, but every bit as elaborate and choreographed, and presumably equally imbued with unspoken significance. She goes through the motions of kneeling at the appropriate time, but sneaks glances at the rest of the gallery rather than attempting to follow prayers.
        When communion is offered, she gets a whisper in her ear and a squeeze on the hand. “Just pass them along, as I do. Otherwise you’re making a promise you don’t even understand.” She notices that Hiroyuki does likewise.
        The hymns, on the other hand, are equal opportunity. She finds herself humming along, though with reasonably accurate pitch. She prefers to keep out of the way and listen to the choir. Some of them are familiar, though she couldn’t name them without reading the title off the page. It seems she has heard those before, with rather different lyrics, or no lyrics at all. In particular, she recognizes the theme of Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. It seems peculiar that a piece with astrological meaning would appear as a church hymn, but she shakes it off.
        The sun answers its call, and the stained glass behind the altar lights up on cue right at 9 AM. She had been looking forward to this moment, and it doesn’t fail to impress. As if this were the signal, the choir begins singing Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow as the congregation is dismissed, and everyone queues toward a nearby, much lower building.
        “W-what are we waiting for?”
        Karla answers with obvious pride. “Breakfast, of course! Everyone is invited, whether they attend the church every week, every year, or never. Those who can afford to pay, do so. Those who can’t, don’t. That’s the beauty of it. Today, we’re all equal in God’s arms.”
        God apparently needs longer arms, as the center seats two hundred, and about six times that many have turned up – probably a large fraction of all people who are not at home at this hour. It takes forty-five minutes to get plates, and Karla deposits an unmarked envelope into a box on the way through. They end up taking a table in a side room rather than waiting for space to open up in the main hall, along with twenty-five others.
        There were perhaps eight hundred in the chapel, a fact that is not lost on Karla either. “For some of these people, a hot meal and warm company – just knowing that someone cares – does them more good than all the sermons in the world.”
        Now that is a philosophy I can take comfort in.

***

        “No, you may not have any Valium. It won’t do you any good to trade one habit for another.”
        “I know the rules, Mum,” Neko snaps. “I wrote the fucking plan.”
        “Hey, don’t bite my head off over it,” Sally responds, hands in the air as she stands in the doorway to the darkened room. "I’m not the addict who insisted on quitting cold turkey. Why don’t you avail yourself of the options that are available to you? I’m even willing to suspend the rules against smoking in the house – but please sit at the window and blow it outside.”
        “How about in the pool? Maybe if I’m sitting in water, I won’t notice that I’m dripping sweat from every pore.”
        “Hmm. Sorry, no, we still have lots of traffic going in and out that way. We’ll never be able to keep it out of the house. You can blow it out those windows, but I don’t want you smoking in the pool or the hot tub. Maybe tomorrow, but not tonight.”
        “Why did I have to pick tonight to start this madness?” Neko groans at nobody in particular.
        “Because company. Even though Christmas is just an excuse to eat fried chicken here, your absence would have been questioned. You wanted it kept under the radar, so we both agreed this was the time to do it.”
        Neko rolls out of her bed, clutching a white terrycloth bathrobe that is simultaneously too long and too narrow to fit her, and fetches her goods. “Care to join me? I promise not to bite.”
        “I’d like to, but one of us needs to keep her head screwed on straight tonight – and that clearly isn’t going to be you.”
        Using the railing of the bed as support, Neko finds her way to the window and takes a moment to open both the blinds and the window itself a crack before collapsing in a heap at the bottom. Sally briefly wonders if this was really necessary before realizing the water pipe is stashed behind the pedestal of the bed, and that crawling is the only way to get to it.
        As she packs herself a bowl, Neko suddenly tosses out an apparent non-sequitur. “Tomato soup.”
        “Pardon me?”
        “I just realized what might make me feel a little bit better. Tomato soup and some oyster crackers. I’m certainly dumping enough salt to deal with it.”
        “That’s a reasonable request. I’ll put someone on it.” Sally is relieved to have an excuse to end the conversation and walk away, closing the door behind her. When she gets to the kitchen, she flags down the first ranch hand that passes by. “My girl needs a bowl of tomato soup and some crackers.” For good measure, she points at the cupboard containing canned goods.
        “Uh, okay,” he says with moderate surprise at being tasked with something well outside his normal duties, “but you really want me to wash my hands first. I just finished mucking the stalls.”
        “That’s fine, take the time to get yourself cleaned up. Nobody is expecting miracles, even on Christmas.” She collects the Grey Goose and the olives from the refrigerator, and pours herself another martini. When the ranch hand returns, holding his still damp hands in the air, she amends the request. “Make enough for two. I’ll be joining her.”
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"Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter 49 (20160502)

Post by NekoDude » Tue May 03, 2016 1:39 am

CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

2007-12-30

        “Do you really have to go so soon?” Iwanako pleads with her mother. “It feels like you just got here.”
        “I agree completely, it does feel like I just got here. Just the same, I have to finish business down there, not that it will take all that long. I’ll be back to stay in a few weeks. I’m sure Mayuki can use a little breathing room for planning her own move as well.”
        Mayuki gives a gentle ‘I’m glad you read my mind’ smile in response.
        “I could go with you,” Iwanako offers, but is not terribly surprised when this offer is denied as well.
        “Then you’d have to come back alone, and we both know you don’t want to do that. You’ll be back in class before I close the deal. Why, are you feeling a little homesick?”
        Odd as it seems, she actually is, and nods accordingly. “It’s the last chance I’ll ever have to see the old place.”
        “No, it’s not. I mean it may be decorated differently, but I’m pretty sure you’ll see it again.”
        How is that possible? Are you just renting it out now? Iwanako’s face must betray her confusion, because her mother continues the explanation.
        “You and I are both welcome to visit, assuming the deal goes through as planned. The new owners would be unlikely to turn us away, considering.” This time her mother grins, and actually waits for her to ask the question aloud.
        “Considering what?”
        “Considering I’m selling it to the Nakais.”
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) Chapter 50 (20160502)

Post by NekoDude » Tue May 03, 2016 1:40 am

CHAPTER FIFTY

2007-12-31

        “If you insist on coming along,” Karla says impatiently, “dress warm and let’s get moving. I’d rather not walk in the dark.”
        I wonder if they’re all still holding their breath inside, Hanako wonders once she gets a few meters past the closed door. “D-do you know where we’re g-going?”
        “In a general sense, yes. We’re going everywhere. That’s what a pub crawl means! I have just today to have my fun. It’s all boredom and twelve-step meetings on the bill for two-double-ought-eight.”
        The first stop is only a few hundred meters away, and the place is already bustling with activity. This rises to a painful noise level once they manage to belly up to the bar. Karla catches the attention of a bartender with a wink and a smile, nearly having to shout over the din. “Two Ballantine’s, neat,” she requests, causing the bartender to just shake his head. “Your pick then,” she tells Hanako, nudging her to make sure the message gets through.
        I’ll go with what worked last time. “M-Macallan 18?”
        The bartender gives Hanako a look, glances at Karla, and decides to ask neither for ID. He nods, so Karla puts up two fingers to confirm, palm out of course. “You’ve got taste, I’ll give you that. Having you along may be more fun than I expected. Also more expensive.”
        On the next stop, where it is considerably quieter, Hanako makes a point to order Beamish Irish Stout, knowing that Akira would be quite disappointed if she did not. The increased size of the drink also slows the procession down somewhat, so Karla deems it appropriate to order a basket of chips for their ‘tea’.
        “It’s early, but I was feeling a bit peckish. You too?”
        Hanako just nods and smiles. Although not particularly hungry, she’s not particularly not hungry either, and has no problem sharing the basket politely. I think Beamish tasted better back in Japan, with you, she reflects as she sips at her drink.
        After ‘tea’ consisting of chips and beer, they continue on their tour. This time, Hanako spots a familiar and meaningful number and hopes it means what she thinks it does. As they get closer, she makes it a point to get caught staring into the storefront of ‘Buddies 147 Pool & Snooker Club’.
        “Oh, you play?” Karla asks, not yet displaying any signs of inebriation although Hanako can definitely feel it coming on.
        “Y-yes, I have access to a t-table back home.”
        “Lucky you. We’ve never had room for one, and now we definitely won’t. Let’s shoot a few frames.”
        Just like the pool hall in Hokkaido, this one is also a bar, and also relegates the snooker tables to a room of their own. However, the snooker room is a much more significant part of the layout than the two tables in Hakodate.
        Hanako finds herself taking on low-percentage long pots just to give Karla a chance to get in at the table, rather than playing safeties which could win her frames – but not friends. She makes some, and misses some, and Karla is just good enough to make a few when Hanako leaves her in amongst the balls. Most important, giving Karla table time is an easy way to deliver on Akira’s desperately gestured request to keep a leash on her – in this case, by giving her something to think about other than just drinking.
        When she sends a picture of the scene back to Akira to update them on the situation, the reply comes back, ‘Don’t win all of the bets, shark.’

        “Hey there,” Suzu says to Abe with a wink and a nudge, “ready to set off our fireworks?”
        “I told you,” Sally objects, “no blowing stuff up or burning stuff down. You know it frightens both the horses and the dogs. Nothing visible in the air either, we really don’t need to attract the attention of the constabulary.”
        Suzu wheels and stares, hand outstretched before putting up a finger with each item. “First, I promise we’re going somewhere to not be seen, so you don’t need to worry about that. Second, we know better than to do anything that might start a fire. Third, the only things blowing up will be us. Right darling?” She aims the last bit at Abe, which draws a snicker from Rika.
        “You’d better be good to your word,” Sally retorts. “You know what happened the last time fireworks set something alight.” She slowly sweeps her eyes meaningfully toward Rika, and the snickering quickly stops. “You’d better keep those little explosions quiet as well. Just because you won’t be seen, that doesn’t mean you won’t be heard. Will you be back before midnight?”
        “Not likely,” Suzu admits. “We were planning on making this a two year event.”

        “I need one last smoke before the year is up, but I’ll be back for the popping of the champagne,” Sae says to her inner circle before weaving her way through the packed gallery to the street.
        I thought you’d never go. Rin takes her opportunity and slips through the crowd as well, but toward the stairs in back. She climbs carefully and after four flights of stairs finds herself at the same door she checked hours before. Still not locked. Still not alarmed. For a moment she fears there will be a crowd awaiting her at this end as well, but is relieved to find that she has the roof to herself.
        Bong. The first stroke of the bell can be felt as well as heard, disturbing the sleeping city wildlife and sending a few startled birds airborne. I know that feeling.
        She peeks over the edge at the crowd in the nearby intersection, solemnly awaiting each stroke. Thirty-eight. Thirty-nine. From here, the crowd below seems a collection of dolls – capable of self-propelled motion, but automata nonetheless. Forty-two. The answer to absolutely nothing.
        Slipping off her shoes, she finds a suitable place to step up onto the half meter wide raised edge around the building. I wouldn’t want to slip now, would I? That would ruin my day. Fifty-four. She wanders to the corner nearest the intersection from which the bell tones are being emitted, and does a little pirouette.
        I am not my paintings. You can have them. She imagines the silent auction going on in the gallery below, and walks along the front edge. She can see the cigarette smoke rising around the awning that covers the door, but cannot identify the people responsible for it. Sae probably stayed out for a second one.
        Eighty-three. Eighty-four. The wait is killing me. Also, the weight. She feels immensely heavy, and envies the birds that took flight earlier despite the difficulty they will have getting back home. The crowd below grows increasingly quiet, even the murmuring of people trying to find positions having almost entirely ceased.
        Ninety-nine. One hundred. She does an about-face at the corner and starts heading back toward the bell. One hundred and six. She shortens her steps to avoid arriving early. One hundred and seven. Just passing the end of the awning, she makes an abrupt turn to the right and takes one long step into the dark. One hundred and eight. So this is what it feels like to fly.
Last edited by NekoDude on Tue May 03, 2016 11:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) COMPLETED (20160502)

Post by NekoDude » Tue May 03, 2016 9:58 am

END OF BOOK THREE.

Book four (and presumably the final one before this story takes a severe left turn into a different genre entirely) is now in progress. It will be posted under exactly the same terms as the previous -- a 30 page buffer for edits and retcons, or whatever I feel comfortable with.

The thread is now open to comments. Actually it always was and will remain so, but particularly so now that there will be a bit of a hiatus in posting (though not in writing).
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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) COMPLETED (20160502)

Post by supernoodle » Tue May 03, 2016 6:47 pm

I've been reading since the beginning and have never really been able to piece together what direction this been headed... and now this "severe left turn into a different genre" statement leaves me a little awestruck in wondering just wtf you've been planning. Have we been given any clues up to this point? I'm sure there must be something but there's so many strands it could really be anything.

When might we expect a return of Miki?

I'm also curious, what word-count is this story currently up to?

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Re: "Into The Dark" (Neko Book 3) COMPLETED (20160502)

Post by NekoDude » Mon May 09, 2016 10:33 pm

supernoodle wrote:I've been reading since the beginning and have never really been able to piece together what direction this been headed... and now this "severe left turn into a different genre" statement leaves me a little awestruck in wondering just wtf you've been planning. Have we been given any clues up to this point? I'm sure there must be something but there's so many strands it could really be anything.
Oh I'll bring the current story lines to a reasonable conclusion within this series, and include some events for the remainder of 2008 all the way up to 2011 or so when they should all be finishing up at University. (Or 2012 for some of them.)

The severe left turn will be that the characters start to scatter and go their separate ways, and many of them will consequently drop out of the story while others will take on roles that haven't been hinted at thus far – plus, new characters, because new locales and also because some of them are going to have children of their own. Also I will no longer make even the vaguest pretense of this being any sort of romantic story, it will be centered around a much larger (like multinational scale) scenario involving the Satous, the Rogers', and the United States and all of its military allies. (The device will be medical, but development will be primarily driven by military contracts.) That's all I'm certain of at this point, I have several paths I can take and I'm trying to figure out which one makes the best story, which one involves the least pseudoscience, and whether I can make those two categories converge on one storyline. However, it will ultimately involve one or more of the following: time travel (forward), space travel, or dimensional travel (aka "sideways time travel" if I go with the two-dimensional time concept). I originally had a large story arc planned involving traditional, backward time travel (part of which involved Akira making unauthorized trips and starting cults at various points in history), but I don't believe that is viable because I can't do backward time travel and be consistent with the physics we know of.

This will be a completely different set of books though, with only a passing reference to Yamaku, if any. You'd be able to pick up the new books without reading the first four, and not be lost. Many of the characters will carry over, and the social and political connections they bear will also carry over, but it will all either be explained anew, or it will just be hinted at. For example, it may not be all that relevant that Neko's parents are crime bosses, so this may be merely implied rather than stated. And some characters will get name changes for logical reasons – Neko will resume being Kat in English-speaking areas, and Hanako will take on a name change (to something more Anglosphere appropriate) for justifiable personal reasons. Akira won't, since that's a perfectly valid Scottish name.
supernoodle wrote:When might we expect a return of Miki?
She should return to a much higher profile somewhere around April 2008, and the third book just ended at the first instant of 2008, so it won't be that long. I can say that without a spoiler tag, because there are a million ways that could potentially happen (though I know how it does).
supernoodle wrote:I'm also curious, what word-count is this story currently up to?
As counted by Microsoft Word 2010:
And Nakai Makes Three: 98,905
Three of a Perfect Pair: 121,889
Into the Dark: 149,811
-----
Total after three books: 370,605.

Out of the Blue: 2,387 so far, but I'm just getting started.
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"Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Prologue (20160617)

Post by NekoDude » Sat Jun 18, 2016 1:43 am

PROLOGUE

        It is a few minutes past three on the frigid first morning of the year when Karla slips out to the restroom. Encountering nobody, she locates the bottle innocuously labeled as ‘Listerine’ but actually containing Talisker Storm. It’s Tesco rubbish, she thinks as she recalls filling and clandestinely re-sealing the bottle outside the store days before, but it will have to do. Anything to fortify me against the cold.
        All of her cold-weather gear remains hanging from the rack just as when she returned, a mere four and a fraction hours ago. She makes sure to tuck twenty pounds into the pocket of Hanako’s coat, as the cabbie had been unable to accept credit cards due to ‘technical problems’ she gathered had more to do with him pinching the fares. After bundling up appropriately and double-checking her pockets, she steps quietly into the oppressively still darkness.
        Once out of sight of the house, she slips the ‘Listerine’ out of her pocket and takes a sip, feeling an immediate rush of warmth to her face and a burn on her tongue. Smooth it’s not. She knocks back another few swallows before capping the bottle, letting the home-brewed heat shrink seal fall by the wayside. She hums a tune with lyrics she dreamed up in the closing hours of the previous year.

        Old Karla, she shouldn’t be drinking,
        Everyone else must be thinking.
        She’s taken a vow,
        But just watch her now,
        When you see her again she’ll be stinking.


        She’s about two thirds of the way to her destination, having measured it mentally on the previous day’s pub crawl, when the bottle runs out. Perfect. She lets that clatter to the walkway, half-heartedly kicking it out of the path and into the narrow alley between buildings, from which a hunchback figure appears.
        “Spare a tenner?” the shambling man croaks.
        “Do I look like I’m on a bloody shop tour?” she snaps back at him. “Fuck off, git.”
        “It mighta been couched as a polite request,” comes a voice hailing from a second shadow separating from the darkness, “but ye’d be wise to heed it. Else we’ll be seeing what color ya bleed.” He accompanies this with a flash of steel.
        Oh bloody hell. Just what I needed. She reaches into her coat and emerges with an easily palmed canister of pressurized dye gel. Bloody bastards get to carry blades and I can’t even carry fucking seasonings.
        “I’d be pleased to show you,” she answers as she unloads on the nearer of the two with a blast of bright pink foam that fills his eyes, which he immediately begins trying to wipe off.
        “Wotcha done to me?” He takes a step forward, blindly thrusting the knife at empty space between them, a move easily countered by taking a step back. The second accoster takes a step toward her and receives a pasting as well.
        “You bloody daft?” she taunts him as he too paws at his eyes to try to clear them, only he drops his blade. She closes the space in two rapid steps and kicks it aside with a clatter while applying a raised elbow and forearm to his chest, sending him skittering into the alley. She backs away again as she monitors the former threats, then turns tail and runs.
        At a seemingly safe distance, she slows to a shamble and catches her breath. That was my chance to make it look good, all wrapped up in silver paper, and I pissed on it. I should apologize to the blokes and beg them to shiv me.
        Fuck that, she doesn’t want to be mistaken for a statistic. You think you can put me on a leash? I’ll sooner do it myself. After sparing a moment to feel the weave of the parachute cord in the larger pocket, she tucks the nearly empty canister back into its coin pocket and continues on her way.
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Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 1 (20160719)

Post by NekoDude » Tue Jul 19, 2016 2:45 am

CHAPTER ONE
2008-01-02

        Daisuke walks the short journey to the Muramoto offices alone and dazed, with only the brisk winter air to keep him company. Entering the slightly warmer and much less breezy lobby provides little comfort, and he finds himself pulling his coat more tightly to him as much to ward off the interest of others as to provide warmth. Half day, he thinks as he steps into the elevator with the rest of the crowd, his floor (and just about all of the others) already selected. If I can manage that, I just might survive this week.
        Once the doors open on his floor and he maneuvers to the front, a chill of a different kind strikes him. He sees the eyes of those he passes, glancing down and to each side of him before turning back to him, but nobody asks any questions. Even Ozuka has the good sense to hold whatever thought was about to tumble out of his mouth once they make eye contact, instead dropping in a step behind him and following him into his office.
        “Trouble in Paradise?” Ozuka asks quietly once he has closed the door. “You’re flying solo this morning.”
        Daisuke wheels as he peels off layers of protection from the weather, ready to open fire with both barrels, until he sees the look on Ozuka’s face. It actually bears a passing resemblance to concern – for his prized assistant, I’m sure, not for me – but maybe this won’t be as hard as I anticipated. After letting out his rather excessive inhalation with a sigh, he takes another, shallower breath before speaking. “It isn’t good, that’s for sure. You’d need a winch to get her out of that hospital room.” When he sees Ozuka’s eyes go wide, he decides the man actually does care, and continues. “She’s probably going to be out the remainder of the week, maybe longer if it takes excessively long to get the release. She insists on being there at the end.”
        “What release? What are you talking about? Did something happen to her?” Ozuka seems to want to ask three more questions simultaneously, as is typical of him, but stops when he sees the upraised hand.
        Daisuke gestures at the only other chair in his office, and spins his own around to face it. “Have a seat, this may take a while.” Where do I start?

        Neko jumps halfway out of her skin when her phone rings, as she had started to nod off despite her best efforts. “Are you alone?” she asks as soon as she grabs it.
        She hears Hisao chuckle, but it’s distinctly not jovial. “I’m as alone as I can be on the streets of Tokyo at 7:30 in the morning. Whatever it is you need to tell me, please make it quick. My folks are being really weird and insisting I meet the person whose flat they’re buying. Maybe it’s someone famous, I don’t know, I just know I have to be back in twenty minutes or they’ll come looking for me. I’m sure they have guessed why I had to step out to make the call.”
        I’m sorry for that, I can’t make them like me if they have ulterior motives for disliking me. “This won’t take long to tell you. Following up might. We’re going to have to work as a tag team, now that we have two disasters.”
        “Oh. Shit. What happened now?”
        “You remember Akira from the housewarming party, right?” When he hesitates, she throws him a hint. “The one Hanako flew out to visit…”
        “Oh! Yeah, yeah, I remember her. We haven’t seen her in a while. I heard about her health scare, but I thought she was over that. Did something go off the rails?”
        “You could say that – but it’s not her that’s gone off the rails. It’s her Mum.”
        “Wait, that’d be…”
        “Lilly’s Mum too. I probably should have used that angle first. Anyhow… they found her.”
        “I – I didn’t know she was missing.”
        “Yeah. Apparently she wandered out and found a place to make her feelings known in a way that won’t soon be forgotten.” Neko shudders a bit despite being quite comfortably warm. “They found her hanging from the children’s play set at the local park.”
        Hisao whistles through his teeth on the other end of the line, and pauses a beat. “Right. What do you need me to do?”
        “Prepare to be there if they need you. I mean I’m on reasonable terms with all of them, and Mum is already arranging delivery of a gift basket. It’s taking her an exceptionally long time, since she was explicitly asked not to fill it with booze. She doesn’t know what else civilized people put in one.”
        “I wouldn’t either.”
        “Anyhow, it just seems you’d be the better choice, between the two of us, what with that uneasy little peace treaty we’ve got. I’ll let you check in before your parents call you in as a missing person. Just… just be prepared to change plans quickly, right?”
        “Plans?” There’s that creepy chuckle again. “Plans are what you make while life is busy kicking you around.”

        Yoshizumi remains stationed behind the thin paper partition as she hears the door open and close again, content to listen to the conversation until it is time to spring her surprise.
        “You don’t look so well,” Mrs. Nakai starts, with quiet concern.
        “I don’t feel so well,” Hisao confirms, as he audibly slips out of his shoes and hangs up his coat. “I’ve got another problem on my mind now.”
        “I thought you said you weren’t all that close to the girl,” Mr. Nakai says, and Yoshizumi can imagine the silent question on his face.
        “I’m not. It’s someone else this time.” After a moment of awkward silence where looks are presumably exchanged, he continues. “I might have to head back north a day or two ahead of schedule, to help keep things from unraveling any further.”
        “Is it serious?” A mother’s concern. She knows the answer is yes, but wants to hold the door open if he wishes to discuss the matter. Even I could pick up that much.
        After another moment without speech, there comes a gasp from both of the elder Nakais before the boy speaks. “I… I need to wash my hands. Or my face. Or something.”
        At that, the partition slides aside, and she feels Mrs. Nakai’s gentle touch on her arm. “You may as well have a seat with us. It appears you have been upstaged.” So much for my grand entrance.
        When Hisao returns and sees the three of them seated at the table, he freezes and adopts his poker face, though his eyes show that if he wasn’t crying, he came very near to it and remains there still. “Wha… I mean, good morning Ms. Daidouji.” He gives a perfunctory bow. “What brings you here today?” He tries valiantly but unsuccessfully to smile with sincerity.
        “Paperwork.” She holds up a thin folio. “The sooner we can get these to the bank, the sooner they can tell us to hurry up and wait.”
        “But… you’re in the restaurant business, are you not? You never told me you were a real estate agent.”
        “Only for myself.”
        “Come, sit with us,” his mother quietly requests. “The tea is getting cold.”

***

        Daisuke is grateful that the walk home is as brief as it is, but now he has to shift gears, both mentally and physically, and drive to the hospital. Setting the paper bag from the office on the seat, he carefully threads his way out of the parking garage and into lunchtime traffic. I never figured on getting this car, this way. He finds it mildly amusing that he drives the Skyline more than Emi does, even though it is tailored for her. However, there is only room for one car under their building, so the Ractis remains in the work lot more often than not now.
        At least I didn’t have to stop for lunch. As slowly as the work day went, the drive seems to be even more painful. Maybe it’s because I can’t afford to stare into space for fifteen minutes at a time. Not if I want to get there in one piece. Just the same, once he does arrive, he can hardly remember how he got there. Autopilot: something I have and Emi does not. Is that really the only reason she always lets me drive? he muses as he searches for parking. Finally he spots the white flash of backup lights and positions himself to dart into the spot before anyone can swoop around him.
        Along the way from the car to the hospital proper, he pokes into the brown bag. There is a substantial chance Emi won’t be in a mood to eat, and although she will assure him that he should, it will seem awkward. Perhaps it would be better to play it safe and start without her, gauche as it may be to dine in public. Takoyaki! Not bad for a giveaway. Once he reaches the walkway and is in little of danger from inobservant drivers, he stops momentarily to get the package open and pops one into his mouth whole. Two or three seconds pass before he realizes what a bad move this was, as his sinuses are set aflame and tears stream down his face. He takes a seat on a nearby bench, not even caring that there are people smoking just a meter or two away, and pokes through the listings on his phone.
        “Why would you prank me, today of all days?” he immediately demands to know the moment Ozuka answers.
        “What? I didn’t… oh! I told you it was a roulette pack. Those were just what didn’t get taken during the client meeting.”
        “You didn’t tell me it was a Russian roulette pack,” Daisuke exhorts between gasps, breathing in through his mouth and out through his nose. “I just got one filled entirely with wasabi!”
        “Look, I’m sorry,” Ozuka proclaims in his own defense, “there must have been two of those, because I could have sworn someone had fallen for that one already. They’re not all like that, I promise.”
        Just the same, he carefully nibbles at the next one to check the contents before consuming it, along with the one after that.

        “I know, Mama,” Emi insists, “or at least my head does. I just have yet to wrap my heart around it. I feel like they should have done more to protect her, and that I was part of that plan.”
        Meiko nods. “You were – but it is simply not your fault that the time came to move on. What were you expected to do, follow her around the rest of your life? And it’s not like you just abandoned her, they had more than a month to accommodate your absence. I mean…” She is spared from having to rattle off her list yet again and come up with new ways to say everything, as the door creaks open. She smiles gently and nods a greeting at Daisuke. “…I’m sure he’d tell you the same thing.”
        “Tell her what?” he quietly replies the moment he gets the door closed.
        “That this isn’t her fault.”
        “I’ve already tried,” he says with a shrug and a grimace. “I was almost late to the office this morning because of it. Oh, I brought a snack.” He offers a black plastic tray. “I’d recommend nibbling before committing.”
        Meiko glances at the roughly spherical contents. “I’ve bitten the bullet a few times and lived to tell about it.” It’s one of Koshi’s favorite games that doesn’t involve… oh hey, I’m blushing. Realizing she isn’t merely staring at Daisuke, but through him, she shakes her head vigorously and hopes this is all written off as a stray memory moment as she randomly selects one of the dough balls. While she tentatively tastes, accepts, and finally consumes the takoyaki, Emi rises and whispers something in Rin’s ear and remains in that position for some time, either expecting nor receiving a response, and adding one last whisper before parting.
        As the three of them prepare to leave the room, the heart monitor sounds an alarm. They press against the wall as a doctor enters calmly, glances at his watch, makes a note on the chart hanging from the wall, and turns to them somberly. “I’m afraid I must request that you leave now.”
        I think we are all in agreement with that. The last thing Meiko wants right now is to answer to the Tezukas when they arrive, whether that takes five minutes or an hour. There is still something on her mind, but it has to wait until the trio has passed the bend of several corridors. “What did you say in there?” she asks Emi, but receives only a shake of the head and a stream of tears in response for perhaps a minute. Daisuke shows respectful support with a hand on her shoulder while saying nothing.
        At long last, Emi finds the ability to speak, although it is little more than a whisper. “I told her I’d be there for her. Always.”
        Apparently, what she really wanted was to be left alone.
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Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 2 (2016916)

Post by NekoDude » Fri Sep 16, 2016 11:10 am

CHAPTER TWO

2008-01-20

        Hisao hears the scrambling, the rapid footsteps, and the slamming of the door, and knows better than to turn and look. You picked a bad time to ‘gottogodosomething’, Ikezawa. He returns to thoughtlessly regurgitating canned answers onto paper, and is unsurprised to find that he is the first of his corner of the room to complete his test form. Although the protocol is to sit and wait quietly for the end of the test period, he signals for a proctor. In return, the proctor summons him to the front, where he hands over his completed form for this session.
        “I, uh, was wondering if…” He stops, shuffles his feet, and scratches his head, unsure how to continue.
        “She is a friend of yours?” The proctor subtly lifts his head toward the door through which she fled.
        “Yeah, she is.”
        “And is this a common occurrence with her?”
        Not so much lately, but historically… “Yes, I’m afraid it is. She has panic attacks, you see, and things have been quite stressful for her lately.” Not that they’ve been easy for any of us, but… “Someone very close to her passed under unfortunate circumstances.”
        The proctor nods knowingly. “Go find her, if you can. We have already confirmed she did not complete enough of her form to achieve a pass even if all were correct, so we have opted to consider her a no-show, though she can still take the remainder of her sessions. You have twenty-three minutes.” The proctor taps his watch to emphasize the point. “Don’t be late, you will not be granted extra time no matter the cause.”
        “Yes sir.” Hisao gives a perfunctory bow and finds his way out the nearest door before reaching for his phone. I don’t even know if she has hers on her, but it’s worth a shot. No answer, so he leaves a message. “You have twenty-one minutes to pull yourself together before the next test starts. Please be there.”
        Next, he calls the nearest thing he has to ‘home’.
        “Hello?” Neko answers with considerable alarm. “What are you doing?” He hears a feminine giggle in the background and starts to simmer, then hears a masculine response. Tadao and Mariko. So she’s not taking the opportunity to get some strange.
        “I need you to do me and quite possibly your Mum a huge favor. I need you to get hold of Akira, and have her talk some sense into Hanako – or at least try to. She skipped out mid-session on the last test.”
        “Uh, yeah. That sounds bad. One second.” He hears her phone rub against something, and the click of a latch. “Sorry, had to get out of the Radio Room. We’ve been using the weekend to recruit. Alright, I’ll call her. I can’t promise any results…”
        “Of course not, but we have to try. She wouldn’t answer for me, and I have only been cleared to be absent for a few minutes, so I need someone outside the scene to take over.”
        “Understood. I’ll do everything I can. As for you, clear your mind,” Neko advises. “You’re going to need it. It will do bugger all for you to go down with her ship. Now let me get on it.”
        Upon returning, Hisao thanks the proctor for allowing him to step out momentarily, and advises him that while no attempt was made to physically locate her – she could be just about anywhere – other people have been tasked with tracking her down and talking her back to earth. “Do you mind if I check her desk to see if she left her phone?” he adds. “If she did, all my efforts are in vain.”
        “I cannot allow that, but you may accompany me while I do so.” The proctor steps out from behind the table and leads the walk, arriving just in time to hear the tell-tale whir of a phone in a purse.
        Stepping back outside the testing hall, Hisao redials his last call. “Belay that, she doesn’t have her phone with her, and being bombarded by messages upon her return – if she returns – can only make things worse.”
        “I’ll relay the news,” Neko says with exasperation, “but it’s probably too late. The train has left the station.”
        Dammit girl, sometimes you do your job far too well.

***

        Neko greets him the moment he steps through the door. “So how did it go?”
        “For me?” Hisao pauses a moment to hang up his coat. “Not so bad I suppose. I won’t be joining any prestigious programs for English, that’s for sure, but otherwise I think I did well enough.”
        “And her?”
        Do I have to ask who she means? “I don’t know. She didn’t show up for the Physics exam, and we weren’t scheduled to take the same tests after that.”
        “No, I already know what’s up with her. I meant… her.
        “Oh. I didn’t think you cared. She seemed pretty pleased with her performance, so all indicators are positive.”
        “I do care. I want you to be happy, darling, because I love you, and that means making sure those around you are happy as well.”
        “That’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. Everyone seems to take it as a foregone conclusion that I’m ready to move on to the next phase of my life, and that I’ve promised myself to her. They’re right about the first part, there’s nothing to be done about that, but as for the second…” He hems and haws, unsure how to proceed, but Neko just stares with a raised eyebrow and doesn’t interrupt. “...I guess I’m having my doubts. It all feels so forced.
        “A-are you saying…” she pouts. She never stutters.
        “All things considered, I’d much rather hitch my wagon to yours, wherever it may lead.” He swallows his heart back into his chest. There, I’ve said it. “One thing I can be sure of is that it will never lack for excitement.”
        Neko collapses into a fetal position, elbows drawn to her sides and palm on her forehead. “I really could have used that information a few hours earlier,” she says softly. “Unless you’re willing to follow this two-wheeled wagon Down Under, that is.”
        Unsure whether the correct reaction is to cry, vomit, or fall over, Hisao settles for lowering himself to the floor more or less gracefully before responding equally softly. “I’m afraid you’ll have to explain yourself.”
        “You already mentioned part of it. Hanako missed the Physics test. The chances of her getting into any sort of engineering program now are zero, unless she wants to wait a year and go ronin. We actually discussed that, all four of us. Mum was more than willing to employ her as cook for the year to make it happen.”
        “All four of you?” His head starts to spin even worse than before.
        “Me and Mum, her and Akira. Unfortunately, it was stated that while this offer was deeply appreciated, acceptance would mean the two of them would have to separate. Despite the non-aggression pact currently in force between our two clans, having such a direct connection so close to the top of both organizations would not be politically tenable – at least for the Satous, especially with the patriarch soon to return. Mum was fine with it, but didn’t press the matter. In fact, she pointed out the obvious while I was thinking of a way to insert the very same idea from another angle.”
        “The obvious what?”
        “That there is an alternative to waiting. I had been considering it myself already, since I don’t even feel like I have a home here any longer, between the dogs and the fences and the guards and all. I can get a year up, and she can avoid losing one, if we take the opportunity to go to University down there. I’d audit my third-year courses over the autumn and winter and be all caught up by the start of the semester.”
        “Autumn and winter? How does that work?”
        Neko makes vague gestures of flipping an object in space which are more comprehensible once the invisible hand is accounted for. “Other side of the planet, love. It’s all backward. Their winter, your summer.”
        “Oh.” He feels sheepish for not recognizing this sooner, but his brain is fried from a very long weekend. “And how does that solve her problem? She still won’t be admitted into an engineering program.”
        “That’s just it, she doesn’t have to. It doesn’t work that way there. She isn’t obliged to declare a major for two years, though they will begin to pressure her for a choice after one to make sure she meets the prerequisites. She just has to get her foot in the door, and she can prove herself later.”
        “But she was deemed a no-show for the History exam as well,” he points out.
        “They won’t care, she’d have to take an exam to their liking regardless. Their idea of historical fact is, uhh, slightly different in its viewpoint, shall we say. The one concern would be passing the English Proficiency test, and somehow I don’t think that will be an issue. She speaks it better than Mum does, or at least she swears less.” Neko chuckles at some recollection. “She’ll have to make a conscious effort to say «bloody hell» from time to time, just to remind everyone she actually belongs there. Distrust of Chinese students is as rampant there as it is here, possibly worse, and they’re definitely unskilled at distinguishing between the various East Asian races. We’re all chankoro until proven otherwise.”
        “And what about me? Would I pass the English Proficiency test?”
        “I guarantee there are professors with worse English than you teaching right this minute. You might want to steer clear of them as best you can, they are hard enough for a native to understand, but the point is that it didn’t stop them.”
        This is a mighty big dilemma to hit me with out of the blue. “I’m going to have to sleep on this, quite possibly more than once.” Receiving an understanding nod in response, he continues. “Now if you don’t mind, I’d really like to take a shower.”
        Neko barely makes it to a standing position before clothing hits the floor. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
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Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 2 (20161201)

Post by NekoDude » Thu Dec 01, 2016 1:06 pm

CHAPTER THREE

2008-01-21

        “Oh man, it was brutal.” Junpei gesticulates as they walk, but the other two can only spare him momentary glances, and he ends up with his hands in his pockets in an effort to suppress the movements. “We were sitting there – you know, those of us who weren’t off taking the test – doing something close to nothing, waiting for the bell to cut us loose. That’s when they came in.”
        “Who are they?” Neko asks with a curious rise to her voice and a wave of her dark gray arm.
        “Oh you know, El Jefe’s cleanup crew, the three he always sends when he expects trouble.”
        “Ah yes. The bulldogs.” The sight of any one of them individually is no cause for alarm. After all, they are part of the maintenance crew. But all three of them in a pack, that’s a sure sign of trouble. “What did they do?”
        “They just stood and watched, at first, then Nomiya started ranting. He stated that we were all losers for not even trying to better ourselves, that all the time and energy he had invested in us, we were just pissing away – like he was the victim. He told us to go ahead and laugh at his misfortune, as it would be the last chance we would have. That’s when the bulldogs stepped between him and us and quietly told him to finish his packing. But quiet isn’t in the man’s vocabulary. He was going to be heard, even if he could no longer be seen, and insisted that he would see us again. We would be serving him tea, or collecting his garbage, or asking if he wants fries with that. And then, he would be the one laughing.”
        Hisao snorts. “The guy is a loose cannon, I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone, and what happened to Tezuka has to weigh on him heavily.”
        “Yeah, he wasn’t himself for the last couple weeks, and we all knew why. Still, this was more than even we expected, and we’ve dealt with him for almost ten months.” Junpei fishes around in his pocket and palms the items he comes up with. “Anyhow, he may be right. He may get the last laugh. Certainly Saito, the new guy, is doing his best to bore us to death. Hey, I’ll meet you inside,” he adds with a wave of a lighter, before peeling off toward the convenience store. “I have business to take care of.”
        “Mmm, you do that,” Neko says with a nod, and leads the way into the restaurant, which is the busiest she has ever seen it on a weekday afternoon. While she sees many students, they are not generally seated together but with other people she either doesn’t recognize or only vaguely recalls, going over paperwork. Relatives and hired help. This must be the post-test damage control session.
        It takes a few minutes for a table to be prepared for them, by which time Junpei has made good on his promise and rejoined the party. Anyone with a nose should be able to figure out what he was just doing, but he is either oblivious to it or no longer cares. “Wow,” he says as he glances around, “I thought the crazy ended yesterday. Now I’m beginning to wonder if it just started.”
        “A little of both,” Neko answers. “One round of crazy has ended, but now the next begins.”
        “What about you?” Junpei asks Hisao, bumping him a little harder than is advisable. “How did you fare? Are you going to need one of them?”
        “I uh… I think I did alright on the tests.” His pained grimace tells Neko all she needs to know about what he’s not saying. “I don’t need any assistance like that.”
        “Good, good.” When they are led to a table, Junpei takes point. “You have one less worry than them, and one more than me.” He gives Hisao an enthusiastic pat on the back, drawing glares from both of the others, but he seems entirely unaware of the approbation as he slides into the booth. The other two take the opposite side. “I hope they’re not too busy in back, I’m starving.”
        One fewer worry, Neko thinks, but says nothing on this point. “We know what we want, so as soon as you make up your mind, they can get started.”
        “Sweet.” And that’s what he orders, mostly sugary sweet junk, including a fountain drink.
        Hisao shakes his head and rolls his eyes a bit. He’s picking up bad habits from me. “Dude, you’re going to be diabetic by the time you’re forty.”
        Junpei shrugs. “The company health plan covers that, right?”
        “I suppose that depends on the contribution of the employee,” Neko responds sternly. “A loyal and trusted associate that can get things done, certainly. A stable hand that can’t even muck the stalls because it hurts to walk? Not so much.”
        “Good thing I’m staying on the sales force then, yeah?”
        Sorry son. Neko can feel her face twitch momentarily in an approximation of a chuckle as she realizes she’s being patronizing to a boy older than her, but it is true nonetheless. “That’s going to be hard to do, isn’t it, when you don’t belong on campus anymore? I mean Mum still likes you some, but…”
        “She said she needs me, that she has a place for me. Someone has to deliver and pick up packages, right?”
        Oh she has a place for you alright, now that Ben – and by extension, Abe – is no longer under her thumb. Unless you secretly know how to cook and have been holding out on her, you have the wonderful options of hanging out by the convenience store all day until you get busted, or shoveling horse shit. Delivery jobs are for girls that can live amongst their clients – and climb trees.

***

        When Mira arrives back at the ranch, she’s positively glowing.
        Miki raises her eyes without raising her head from the pile of homework in front of her, which she continues to correct on auto-pilot. “It looks like you enjoyed your date. Anything new to tell?”
        “We solve the visa problem,” the blonde responds, bearing a smile big enough to split her face.
        Ah yes, I should have known that’s what this was all about. If it was business of a different sort, I would have been involved. “That is certainly great news! How exactly did you do that?”
        Mira hurriedly holds out the left hand she had been keeping behind her back, to reveal an engagement ring. “Is perfect, no?” She bounces up and down on the balls of her feet.
        Why did I rescue you, if only to see you fall into another arranged marriage? Ah well, at least you seem to like this one. Miki takes the offered hand and gives the ring an inspection, although she is no expert on jewelry or gemstones, and bites her tongue. “It is very nice. When is the magic day?” She releases the hand and retakes the red pencil she uses to correct student work.
        “Second February!”
        The pencil in Miki’s fingers abruptly shatters in a dozen pieces. She picks a splinter out of her fingertip with her teeth before it can do any real damage, then spits it out on the floor. “That’s… not even two weeks! How can anyone make plans that big, that quickly?” Especially me?
        “Sam says is no problem, is smaller than rodeo they do every year.”
        Miki nods in acknowledgement. True, the majority of people who would be invited already live here. It’s not like we have to figure out where to put them. “You have a dress?”
        “His mother’s dress is get…” Mira makes cutting and stitching motions in the air.
        “Tailored.”
        “Yes, tailored. Thank you.”
        “I suppose I’ll have to be fitted for a bridesmaid’s dress then,” Miki groans. I hate dresses.
        “No, Sam says you wear a sharp skirt suit, black, matching him. You have to give away bride!”
        I hope he’s not wearing a skirt too. Then she gives it a bit more thought. Actually, Sam has nice legs, so that would be OK. Weird, but OK. Time to ask what’s really on my mind. “How is this going to affect, you know, us?” She adds a wave of the injured finger back and forth between them before licking away the blood.
        “I spend week here until school is done, weekends with him. You invite too, or just drive if you want car for weekend. Then you get a flat in same building. Sam owns, no problem, close to University. Of which speaking, you choose subject yet?”
        Miki nods as she recalls Sally’s advice. ‘Take business courses, or psychology, as both will serve you well – but remember that I can teach you the business.’ “I’ll go into the program for psychology. Sam and I have already discussed that and he gets the reasoning behind it. It’s one of the few things he and Sally agree on completely.”
        They also agreed on another of Sally’s points. ‘Don’t take anyone around you as a baseline for normal – not students, and most certainly not faculty. Odds are that anyone studying psychology is at least as messed up as you. They’re just smart enough to want to know why.’
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Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 4 (20161212)

Post by NekoDude » Tue Dec 13, 2016 12:09 am

CHAPTER FOUR

2008-01-27

        “If you’re moving on early,” Lilly asks with grand gestures, “who will be in charge of all this?” Her sweeping motion taking in the tiny Radio Room nearly spills her wine, which Hanako notifies her of by a whisper in the ear.
        “Same as now,” Neko says, not bothering to imitate the hand waving. Who taught her to do that, since she can’t see it? “As always, it’s Momomoto’s club to lead, which he will fulfill by coming in only when it interests him to do so and deputizing a student in his place – which would probably be him.” She lifts her chin slightly in the direction of the desk, confident that Lilly already knows the answer to her own question.
        “Good,” Tadao shoots back with feigned annoyance, “maybe then the club will honor my requests to not bother the radio operator.
        “I’m pretty sure we’re not,” Hisao points out, “or have you forgotten that it’s actually El Jefe’s shift? If he wants us to shut up, we will.”
        “If he was here,” Neko agrees, “he most likely would. He takes what little station time he gets quite seriously.” When she takes a drink, the power of suggestion compels everyone else to follow her lead – and even the ones who have to guess what is going on are susceptible, though they take a bit longer. She waits until Lilly has drained her cup before asking, “What are your plans for the next term?”
        Lilly bobs her head from side to side a bit, the black bow making a slight swishing sound as she does. “I’ll probably move in with Papa, once there is room for me. I’ll have to catch a train to University, but I don’t want him to be alone. Not right now.”
        “So you know where you’ll be going? I didn’t think anyone had gotten acceptances yet.”
        “No, not as such,” Lilly admits, “but I only applied to schools in this area, so the plan is pretty much the same no matter where I end up.”
        “Sounds familiar,” muses Hisao with a half-grin Neko knows to be self-deprecating, but others might see as sarcastic or arrogant.
        “Not so much,” Neko counters. “You took it to the logical extreme and went all in on Tōhoku. You didn’t even make a backup plan.”
        “Sure I did, two of them actually – but one of them is off the table now. I can’t move back in with my parents and apply down there, not unless I want to sleep on the sofa.”
        “I th-thought they had two b-bedrooms,” Hanako points out, demonstrating that she has been following closely despite looking like she’s mostly there for the food and wine.
        “They do,” he concedes, “and they’re each taking one.” He must sense the way the whole room holds its collective breath at this, as he follows up with clarification. “They’re tiny rooms. They decided it made more sense to have some separate space instead of being right on top of each other all the time, and open up the divider at night. I can’t say I blame them.”
        I was wondering how the Daidoujis managed in the same sixty square meters. Apparently, just barely. “So if that’s right out, what’s the other backup plan?”
“Following you.”
        Two thoughts run through Neko’s mind simultaneously: I should have seen that coming, and oh so I’m the backup now? They collide catastrophically in the middle of her brain, and much to her surprise and everyone else’s, she hiccups quite violently. “Excuse me, I think I need some fresh air,” she says, quickly fitting her leg and standing before brushing pastry crumbs from her skirt more or less into the waste bin.
        “Neko, if I may…” Tadao starts as she opens the door a crack.
        “You may. What is it?” She hiccups a second time, but not so violently.
        “Make yourself burp. It always works for me.”

        Once the door closes, an awkward silence rules the roost, aside from Tadao’s easily dismissed CQ calls. Hanako waits a respectful moment before following in Neko’s footsteps, and is quite surprised to find her at the border fence, engaged in quiet conversation with Miyagi. As if that weren’t enough, she watches with a mixture of fascination and horror as Miyagi pulls two cigarettes from her pack, passes one to Neko, and lights both. When the two go their separate ways perhaps a minute later, Neko licks her thumb and uses it to put out the cherry on the lightly smoked cigarette before looking up and noticing Hanako staring back at her. As Neko makes her way back toward the Radio Room with a guilty look, Hanako quietly asks, “W-what was that?
        “Emergency headache treatment. It will buy me just enough time to get to my real supplies, but I need to get moving.”
        At this point, Hanako realizes Neko never broke her stride, merely shortening her steps to allow the exchange to take place, and drops in behind her as she heads for the stairwell. Descent occurs at a brisk pace, as does the trip across the courtyard, and soon enough they are in the dark and somewhat depressing cinderblock walls of the ground floor dorm room.
        Neko retrieves Rogers Water from the closet, takes a seat at the desk, and loads the bowl. “Ah, my proper smoke,” she says just before sparking the lighter and taking a deep draw. She quickly moves to cover the top tube with her palm and offers bong and lighter alike to Hanako. After briefly weighing the input of little angel Lilly on one shoulder and little demon Akira on the other, the offer is accepted.
        While holding in the smoke, Hanako gestures at the bong, places her palm to her forehead, and turns the same palm upward toward Neko, who finally lets out her own hit. “Yeah, it’s not exactly doctor’s orders, but I’m ah… kinda not allowed to have Percocet right now.” She prepares for a second rip.
        Not Allowed? I recall someone else was Not Allowed to have her favorite medication, and that didn’t work out so well.
        The door opens and closes, and Hisao is halfway through removing his shoes before he realizes that he has walked into an occupied room. “Oh, sorry, I d–”
        Neko interrupts him. “No, no, it’s still your room. We weren’t having a secret session, just a safety meeting. I got a bit overwhelmed up there, right? Now I know how Atlas feels.”
        “Atlas?” Hisao queries, with a puzzled look.
        “The g-guy with the world on his sh-shoulders,” Hanako recalls, even mimicking the pose seen in sculpture.
        “Oh, I knew that,” he says with a grin, “but I thought we had agreed it was turtles all the way down.” The grin vanishes as he turns back to Neko. “I’m sorry about that, it seems I blindsided you in front of everyone, and when you didn’t come back, I was in no mood to make small talk. Lilly didn’t mind, she’s doubtlessly causing a pileup on two meters right this second.”
        “I knew I should have been more careful about sharing those Magic Girl Powers,” Neko muses, “but she’s probably worthy of them. The two meter band belongs to her as much as it does to me, right?”
        I thought two meters belonged to the Ya– oh, right. It’s easy for Hanako to forget that she’s in bed with the Mob, one way or the other. Nobody ever makes a point of wielding it against her except Mayoi, and hopefully that’s one bit of the family she won’t have to –
        “Like you.” Whatever Hisao was saying up to this point, Hanako missed it. “You’re not my second choice, but I did commit to Tōhoku. ‘All in’, as you put it. That’s where my future lies, if they’ll have me.”
        Neko nods solemnly, the smoke clearly beginning to have an effect. “It’s the not knowing that kills me. I spend my entire waking life planning for the unknown,” she says as she consciously or unconsciously waves the short arm at nothing in particular, “but it’s usually just the next thirty seconds. Having this over my head for the next month… Forgive me if the cracks start to show slightly, right?”
        “You will know as soon as I do, I promise. I get accepted, or I don’t.”
        “What if she doesn’t get accepted either?”
        “Then her aunt will pull strings to get her into a second or third tier school, and as Lilly pointed out, there are plenty of them in Sendai. Not everyone that speaks English well is looking to leave.”
        “And not everyone looking to leave speaks English well,” Neko jibes, then backtracks when she sees his hurt expression. “Oh no babe, I didn’t mean you, you’re almost passable and should make it the rest of the way there pretty quickly once immersed in it. I bet we could bring you up to speed by August. We’ll just deny you dinner every time you step on your dick. Or your daily wine ration, that should be equally effective.” She tries to turn away to avoid corpsing her own joke, but fails.
        “Yeah, well…” He steps around her and starts pulling his bicycle down from the rack. “I’ve got a lot to think about, and I think wind in my hair is a better option than smoke on the water.”
        “And fire in the sky.”
        A couple bottles of wine later, Hanako is back on the roof with Neko, listening to Deep Purple on a portable sound system and watching the sunset, still uncertain if this has been a good day or a bad one.

NEXT
Last edited by NekoDude on Fri Dec 23, 2016 4:17 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "Out Of The Blue" (Neko Book 4) Chapter 4 (20161212)

Post by supernoodle » Wed Dec 14, 2016 5:41 pm

Found a broken sentence here
 I should have seen that coming, and oh so I’m the backup now? run through Neko’s mind simultaneously

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