Ugh...what...time is it?
I reach out and press the alarm button on my clock, then the time button. Its robotic-sounding voice tells me it's six-thirty. I swim against the eddies in my head as I struggle to remember why I would do this to myself again.
I wouldn’t put it past me to inflict this upon myself as punishment right now.
Today is Tuesday, the second day of the new school year here in Inverness. Despite hedging my bets and setting the alarm, I have no intention of attending today, just as I didn’t attend yesterday. I left the house at the proper time, but spent the day at the local library after calling the school to tell them I’d be absent, because I needed time to think. Today, the fruits of that endeavor will be borne out.
After my talk with Akira on Sunday, I’ve been reevaluating many things, especially my decision to migrate here. I knew that the only way to move forward would be to speak with my father. Originally, I had intended to wait until next Sunday, but Akira told me he would be attending a seminar, so I did the next best thing. I made an appointment to see him in his office at eleven o’clock this morning.
As I did yesterday, I leave the house as if I were headed for school. I don’t particularly like deceiving Mother in this way, but I’d prefer to make as few waves as possible before I speak with Father. Once I’ve been dropped off, I find a nearby bench and retrieve my phone from my bag. After all, I need to let someone know that I’m coming home first.
I need to call Hanako.
I’ve needed to call Hanako ever since our last conversation. It hadn’t ended well, and I need to apologize for that, among other things. There’s also the possibility that she’s leaving, or perhaps even already left on her trip, especially if things with Hisao are still up in the air. I should probably have found that out before making this decision, but then she did tell me I could stand to be a bit less careful. Smiling to myself, I dial Hanako’s number. Surprisingly, the call is picked up immediately.
“This is Ikezawa. Please leave a message. Thank you.”
That’s odd. It went straight to voice mail.
I try again, with the same result. Since I’ve got some time, I decide to return to the library where I spent yesterday. After an hour or so, I walk outside and try once more. Again, my call goes straight to voice mail, and I can’t help but feel a tinge of concern. In the past, Hanako has only shut her phone off in two situations. One of those was when she was in the library, but that would be closed by now. The other...was when she would shut herself away in her room.
Then again, there might be another explanation, and even if there isn’t there’s nothing I can do about it from here.
I take a deep breath, starting to lose my nerve a bit. If I’m going to meet with Father, I need some assurance about what awaits me back at Yamaku. If I can’t reach Hanako, that means I need to call Hisao. I hesitate, but only for a moment, before dialing his number. The phone rings only twice before being picked up.
“Hello?” Hisao answers, sounding a bit tired.
“Lilly?” There’s more than a hint of surprise in Hisao’s voice, but that’s to be expected. “Sorry, I thought...never mind, how are you?”
“I’m...well, thank you. How are you?”
I hear a sigh from the other end of the phone. “I’ve been better, to be honest. I’m also...confused. Shouldn’t you be in class right now?”
“Probably,” I say with a light chuckle.
Hisao laughs a bit himself, then says, “I see...so, does that have something to do with why you’re calling?” His tone turns more serious as he continues, “Nothing’s wrong, is it?”
“I sincerely hope not. Hisao, have you spoken with Hanako lately?”
There’s a few seconds of silence before Hisao responds. “I have,” he says, sounding a bit circumspect. “She and I...spent some time together today.”
“Ah, so she hasn’t left, then?”
“No, we saw her friends off at the train station this afternoon.” Hisao sighs heavily, and my suspicion that there’s something he doesn’t want to tell me grows.
“Hisao,” I say in a more serious tone, “do you have any idea why she might have turned off her phone?”
“Turned off her...” Hisao pauses for a moment after echoing my words, and when he speaks again his voice is a good deal softer. “Yeah, I have a pretty good idea, actually.”
This doesn’t sound good at all. “Did something happen between the two of you, Hisao?”
“You...could say that, yeah. I don’t think it’s something I should talk about, though.”
“My, my, Hisao,” I say, trying to keep my tone light, “are you having a lovers’ quarrel?”
“I’d...really rather not say anything until after I’ve talked to Hanako about it,” Hisao says, sounding even more depressed than before. I seem to have hit a bit close to home, and my concern about the situation deepens.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be prying like that.”
Hisao sighs loudly. “No, it’s fine. I understand why you’re concerned. Anyway, did you call just to ask about Hanako?”
“Not...exactly,” I say truthfully. “There’s something I was hoping to tell her, but instead it seems I’ll be telling you first.” I pause for a moment to take a deep breath. “Hisao, I’m coming back to Yamaku.” There’s a long silence at the other end, and it dawns on me how much of a shock that might have been, and what that could mean for Hisao. “Hisao? Are you all right?”
“Yeah...yeah, I’m fine,” Hisao says, and his voice tells me he’s not lying. My nerves are definitely getting the better of me. “I’m sorry, I just...those are words I never thought I’d hear,” Hisao says, forcing a laugh. “Thanks for worrying about me, I really do appreciate it. So, when will you be returning? Before the end of break?”
“Certainly by then, but first I must speak with my father, which I will be doing later this morning. Depending on the outcome of that conversation, I may leave Inverness as soon as tonight.”
“Tonight!?” Hisao nearly shouts into the phone. “That’s...you didn’t even hint at this a couple days ago. What’s brought this on all of a sudden?”
I can’t help but giggle a bit at this. “Why, Hisao, one would almost think you didn’t want me to come back.”
Hisao laughs in return, which is good to hear. “Now that’s not fair! It’ll be great to see you again, but this...isn’t like you, is it? Making a decision like this on the spur of the moment?”
“You’re right, Hisao, it really isn’t like me. However, these past few weeks have made me wonder if, just maybe, I should do something like that every once in a while.” My mind suddenly leaps to the day Hisao and I went shopping for Hanako’s birthday, and how he turned it into our first date with just that kind of spontaneous act.
Maybe Hanako was right after all.
“Maybe so,” Hisao says, bemused.
I wonder if he’s thinking about it, too.
“Much as I’d like to continue this conversation, I mustn’t miss my appointment. If you’re free, I’ll give you a call in a couple of hours with the details.”
“I have nothing planned, so I’ll wait for your call.”
“All right, I’ll talk to you then.”
“Right. Talk to you then.”
After hanging up with Hisao, I immediately call for a taxi. During the wait and subsequent ride to our company’s headquarters, I do my best to push that conversation to the back of my mind so that I can face my father with a clear head. When we arrive, I note that I’m about half an hour early, so I ask the driver to point out a nearby café. After familiarizing myself with the route to it, I step inside the building that houses Father’s office.
After moving a few paces into the lobby, I step off to one side and take in the wide open area in front of me. I soon hear a voice asking if I need assistance, and a kind gentleman whom I take to be a security guard leads me to the front desk, where I register, and then on to the elevator bank. Once I’ve been brought to the correct floor, I follow the directions I received from Akira.
Well, here I am.
I don’t think I’ve ever been in Father’s office, and certainly not the one here in Inverness. The secretary, who had been told to expect me, passes me through. I linger for a bit at the doorway into the office proper, and my hand moves across the nameplate alongside the door. I trace the letters “Satou Hiroyuki” with my fingers, but can’t quite make out whatever is below it.
Should I be surprised that there isn’t a Braille translation?
Entering the room beyond, I once again encounter a sense of openness. It’s almost familiar, reminiscent of the rare occasions I was allowed to visit Father’s den when I was a little girl. The décor there was always sparse, with the space left mostly open. Akira used to tell me that since Japanese society placed such a premium on space, it was a way to conspicuously display his achievement while still maintaining an air of restraint. I never really understood, but I could tell she disapproved even then.
I sense a large object a short distance to my right that also seems familiar, but I don’t dare explore just now. I hear the doors close behind me, and wait a few moments to be acknowledged. The last thing I want to do is diverge from Father’s sense of propriety. Such things tend to be looked upon with grave disapproval.
I can hear deep, even breathing from somewhere ahead, and can feel the particular intensity in the atmosphere of the room that I’ve always associated with Father. I expect he’s taking in every detail of how I’m carrying myself while keeping me waiting. After what seems an eternity, I finally receive a greeting.
“Good morning, Lillian.” I cringe inwardly at that name, which only my father uses. I understand my mother would have preferred to simply name me Lily, and this was their compromise.
“Father,” I reply, inclining my head. This is the first time I’ve met with Father alone since he left Japan, and my anxiety is beginning to make its presence felt again. Fortunately, I’ve had plenty of practice at hiding such things, and I’m not about to let myself get overwhelmed today.
“Please sit down. There’s a chair two meters ahead, half a meter to your left.” The feeling of nostalgia continues, and it allows me to calm myself a bit. Growing up, my father always went out of his way to ensure I knew he was aware of my limitations. It was something of which Akira often reminded me, as though this was a fault of his. I always thought it would depend on the motivation, and could never bring myself to ascribe negative ones to my father like she did.
“Thank you.” I make my way to the designated spot, folding my cane and placing it on my lap as I sit.
Neither of us speaks for over a minute. I hear a soft mechanical whirring, perhaps from a computer, and once or twice the sound of paper being moved around. Finally, Father speaks again, in his usual measured tones. “I’ve been told you have yet to begin attending classes at your new school. Explain yourself.”
I was prepared for this question. “I am a full trimester ahead, so am not required to begin attending classes for several weeks.”
“You should be taking the opportunity to become acclimated.”
“Perhaps,” I say, beginning the argument I’ve spent the past two days refining. “However, I have, in fact, been using this time in what I believe to be a productive manner, specifically to think long and hard about what is important in my life. In the process, I have come to the conclusion that there is something to which I must attend.”
Father sounds almost bored as he says, “And what is that?”
“My duty to my family.”
There is no response for a moment. “That duty was fulfilled by joining us here,” Father says curtly. “We are thankful for your presence.”
You don’t exactly sound as though you are.
“I have others whom I consider family.”
“Oh?” Father says with just a hint of...curiosity? It’s not what I expected, and it sounds almost alien coming from him. I hear the leather of his chair squeaking as he shifts. “Are you saying there is someone to whom you feel as close as you do to your mother and myself?”
This is the response I’d anticipated, but in my head there had been more force behind it. It’s not enough of a divergence not to keep with my planned counterpoint. “I have people back home for whom I care deeply, whom I have come to consider as close as family. That may mean little to you, but we have shared a great deal. We have come to rely upon each other, and I feel that in coming here, I have abandoned them.”
“I see,” my father says, returning to his blunt tone. “Then what is it you intend to do?”
The momentary anomaly now past, I regain my confidence and proceed. “I intend to return to Japan and resume my studies at Yamaku. I will leave for London tonight, and my flight leaves tomorrow.”
For a moment, my father doesn’t respond. When he does, his voice betrays no emotion whatsoever. “Then go.”
I inhale slightly to reply before what Father said sinks in. I don’t think I’ve ever been so shocked by anything as I am by the casual manner with which he spoke those words. It’s enough to freeze me in place, my mouth unable to close.
I must be quite the sight...
Before long, Father comments on the situation. “Do not just sit there catching flies. If you are waiting for my permission, you will not receive it. I cannot stop you, so if this is what you wish to do, then do it. It is not necessary to waste either of our time any further.”
Still stunned, I try my best to process what my father is saying with little success. “I’m...not sure I understand...”
Father’s next words are spoken as though he doesn’t think they need to be said. “You have found something you value in Japan, something for which you feel it is worth the taking of responsibility. That is good. You are finally choosing your own path. That is also good. The remaining question is this: Are you prepared for such a thing?”
My head is truly spinning now. This is certainly nothing like what I expected, and I’m not sure what kind of a response he expects. I need to get my thoughts together, and I think I know where to start. “Before I answer, may I ask you a question?”
“Very well,” Father says, his voice betraying a hint of frustration.
“Why did you summon me here?”
“Why do you characterize it as a summons? This is not Japan, Lillian. Unlike your sister, you were a citizen of this country, and we have no authority over you here. We simply offered you the opportunity to continue to rely on your family if you felt it necessary.”
“What do you mean, if I
felt it necessary?”
“Your sister had expressed to us that she believed you were capable of living on your own. I felt that she wasn’t being objective. After all, you had been quite dependent on her for most of our stay in Scotland. You even eschewed living at your school for a year, despite the difficulties that presented.”
Akira’s words of the other day come back to me. “She said that you summoned me here because you didn’t trust me on my own without her presence. Are you saying that that was the truth?”
“Yes,” Father says without hesitation. “At least, that was part of it. To be honest, Lillian, we had hoped you would refuse the summons.”
“Refusing would have meant that you had found your place in Japan, that you were ready to be on your own. Accepting meant the opposite.”
I’ve already lost this fight, and my composure slips a bit. “We hadn’t met in six years! Was it so wrong to want to try and rebuild something now?”
“Now that you understand how things are, look at the decision you have just made,” Father says, as if it explains everything. Somewhere in my head, a bell begins to chime.
Perhaps it does...
“We were hoping that you would show your self-sufficiency sooner,” he continues, “but your sister insisted on staying behind rather than leave you to help care for your grandparents. It couldn’t be helped, I suppose. Once Akira had taken that upon herself, we decided to wait until your high school was complete and see how things stood at that time. However, when you came to visit recently, your mother decided the time was right. I’d rather not discuss her reasoning, as I disagreed with it, but I bowed to her wisdom. It turns out her intuition wasn’t too far off in the end.”
I continue to sit, dumbfounded, for a time that I can’t bring myself to measure. It seems that my father has said all he’s going to say, and I still don’t feel as though I have any real answers. I may get them from Mother, but not here. In any case, I’ve done what I came here to do, although I think we’ve been talking past each other. I can feel Father’s gaze on me, so I break the silence myself. “I’m...sorry I disappointed you, Father,” I say as I stand up and bow deeply towards him. “I hope that I can live up to those expectations from now on.”
I hear Father’s chair slide along the carpet, and when he speaks, his own voice comes from a place that tells me he has returned my bow. “You are not a child, Lillian. As you yourself said, there are others who are relying on you now.” After he says this, he rises again. “All I ask now is that you choose your path wisely and, perhaps, allow it to lead you back here one day.”
“I will,” I say quietly. “Goodbye, Father.”
“Goodbye,” he says. Then, after a pause, adds, “Lilly.”
I blink in surprise as he uses that name, then smile and incline my head in recognition before unfolding my cane and making my way out of his office. Not wanting to linger here, I board the elevator and descend to the lobby. Once I leave the building, I take a breath of fresh air to clear my head, then begin to make my way to the café. After walking a few dozen meters, I decide to rest on a bench I’d discovered so that I can gather my thoughts.
I’d been expecting some kind of confrontation, or at least to be dressed down by my father, but instead it seems this was what they wanted all along. There were things both Akira and I had wrong, and I find myself wondering if anything I thought I knew about the situation was true anymore.
It seems I’ll be having a talk with Mother, too.
After a few minutes, I get up continue on to the café. Fortunately my senses haven’t left me entirely, as I find it again easily. Once I’ve been seated and placed my order, I try to relax. I decide I need to take my mind off the conversation for now, so it’s time to put our plan into motion. I quickly place a call to my accomplice.
“So, you talked to him after all,” Akira says sympathetically. “I knew it was a good idea to pretend I was out of the office when he called a minute ago. So, did it go horribly, or disastrously?”
“Hey, I’m just being realistic here. I mean, I’d be kinda happy if you could tell me I was wrong, but I know better.”
“Actually, in a way, things went better than I expected. Father surprised me...several times. I don’t think we really have time to go into it now, so I’ll talk to you about it when you get to the house. However, I do think it best to move forward with our plans as soon as possible.”
“Heh, don’t worry about it, sis. I’ve already taken care of everything; I just need to print out your tickets. I’ll pick you up once I’m finished here and bring you to the station.”
I pause, speechless, for a moment. “You knew it was going to turn out this way, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, it was a good bet. Knowing you, and knowing our father, as soon as you were set on this course this was the only possible result.”
I give Akira a knowing sigh. “You’re probably right about that, although there’s another reason I’d like to get back quickly.”
“Ah, something to do with the other two kids, I’m guessing. Well, don’t worry about it, I’ve got it covered. I just wish I could do more for ya.”
“You’ve done more than enough, Akira. Thank you very much.”
“Heh, no sweat. Anyway, I shouldn’t keep the boss waiting, so we can talk more later. See ya.”
My tea arrives just as I hang up the phone. As usual, my sister has taken care of me, and I suddenly realize that it might be a long time before that will be the case again, if ever. I will surely miss that, even if Father thinks that I shouldn’t. I lean back against the cushioned seat and take a sip of the tea.
The tea here may not taste like it does back home, but I think this particular variety will always mean something special to me no matter where I am. Because of that, I’ve been hesitant to drink it since coming to Inverness, but it felt right today. Perhaps because I’m not quite ready to let go of that feeling just yet, I decide to have another cup with lunch. It’s the first time I’ve eaten a meal anywhere other than at home or school since my arrival, and I suppose the last as well. A shame, since this café has such a warm feeling to it.
I might just be imagining that, though.
By the time I’ve finished lunch, I finally feel a bit more like myself. I try again to call Hanako before leaving the café, but to no avail, so I call for a taxi to take me back to my parents’ house. When I arrive, I find Mother in the sitting room with a cup of tea. “Oh, Lilly, dear! I didn’t hear you come in! Would you like some tea, then?”
“Yes, please,” I reply as smoothly as I can. I hear her pouring as I sit across from her. “Thank you, Mother,” I say, inclining my head and taking a sip. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to you about something.”
“Ah, I thought as much. Would this be about the talk with your father, then, or about what you’ve been keeping from me these past days? Oh, you didn’t think I knew, did you?” I can hear the smile in her voice. “My mother always said that you could never keep anything from a MacPherson woman for long. I suspect the same is true of you.” She sets her teacup down. “So, what did you want to ask?”
“I wanted to know about what happened when I was here to visit our aunt. Father told me it was you who decided I should be asked to return now, and I wanted to know why.”
“Ah, so that’s what this is about, is it? I see, I see. Your father was a bit vague about what exactly he’d said, but I’ll explain what I can. I hope you won’t be too
embarrassed by it.”
“Embarrassed? How so?”
“Ah, well, if you don’t know...” Her voice trails off with a sigh, and a moment later she starts again. “Hiro said he told you of his intentions regarding bringing you and Akira to Scotland. I’d always pushed him to bring your sister back first, but once she chose to take care of you he’d have none of it. I needed to be able to appeal to his sensible side, so I waited for an opportunity to present itself. That opportunity came in the form of a pair of phone calls when you were here last.”
She pauses to take a sip of tea, and the bell chimes a bit louder. “I could hear in his voice that you meant something special to your young Mister Nakai, and especially the second time that there was something of that about you as well. Of course, you’d already told us of your friend Miss Ikezawa, and it seemed to me like you were building something for yourself back there.”
Mother sighs gently, as if this is a bit painful for her as well. “So, once that was plain, I convinced your father to ask you to come back immediately. I spoke with your sister often, as you know, and found out quite a bit about the lad from her. Akira’s always protected you something fierce, and I knew when she said she approved of Mister Nakai that my intuition had been right...or at least, so I thought.”
The last few words sounded softer, as if Mother were bowing her head. I’ve lost count of how many shoes had dropped by now. Perhaps I’m down the rabbit hole, and the caterpillar has come home. “So...that’s why you didn’t expect me to accept? You thought...I would want to stay with Hisao?”
“Well...hoped, really. You haven’t really talked about him since you returned, so I’m guessing things between you have soured a bit?”
Somehow, I manage a smile at that. “You...could say that, yes. We’re still good friends, but I think that’s all we’ll ever be now.”
“I suppose I jumped the queue a bit, then. If that’s my fault for pushing things along, I’m truly sorry. Good friends, you say? Well, that’s fine, I suppose, but it’s not what you want, is it?”
After all that’s happened today, I find myself struggling to keep my composure again. “Whether it is or it isn’t...doesn’t matter now. We’ve all moved on.”
My mother is silent for a moment as she sips her tea. “Ah, now that’s your father’s side talking. He’s quite good at hiding himself behind his pragmatism, just like that.” Mother sets her cup down with authority, as though she’s decided something just then. “And I know there’s no arguing with him when he gets like that, so I’ll give you the same regard. So, you’re leaving tonight, are you?”
I nearly choke on my tea at the swift change of subject, but I recover quickly. “Father told you?”
“No, actually, I got that bit out of your sister. She’s quite pleased about it, and pleased with herself a bit for her persistence. I do think that if you’re going to go back, the sooner the better. Things could get tricky if you stay here, I’ll venture. Do you need any help getting ready, dear?”
“No,” I say, still lagging a bit in comprehension. “I should be fine.” In actuality, I’d unpacked very little beyond what I’d needed on a day-to-day basis, so that much was true.
“All right, then, I’ll leave it to you.” I can hear her footsteps receding toward the kitchen, but she stops a few meters away. “Just one more thing, and then I won’t bother you until you’re ready to leave.”
“What’s that, Mother?”
“Just a bit of advice: if I were you, I wouldn’t be ruling that Nakai boy out just yet. I’d bet anything that if you asked him, he’d come back to you in a heartbeat.”
How appropriate that she’d put it that way...
“You might be right, Mother. But, you see...that’s the very reason I can’t
ask him. It’s...kind of complicated...”
“Ah, say no more. I won’t mention it again. Just give me a shout and I’ll see you off.” As Mother finally retreats fully into the kitchen, I make my way upstairs.
Hisao has been drifting in and out of my mind all day, and now Mother’s story has brought him to the fore again. I walk into my room, and instead of the phone I find myself, almost automatically, moving to my dresser. I kneel, placing the top of my head against it, and for a split second I doubt my decision to return.
No. I can do this. I know I can.
My resolve returning, I open the bottom drawer and bring out the music box. I don’t open it for fear that I’ll lose what I just regained, and I quickly tuck it among my still-packed clothes. With one last deep breath, I pick up the phone once more.