Author: Skyla1 PM
A Prequel to Last Resort: Sometimes things just happen. We've gotten this far. Where did it all go wrong?Rated: Fiction M - English - Angst/Drama - Chapters: 6 - Words: 83,946 - Reviews: 37 - Favs: 14 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 08-27-06 - Published: 12-25-03 - id: 1657058
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Everything seemed to be happening so fast. It was a few months ago that they had discussed making the trip back. Thoughts were filled with the intentions of late night trips to the Shake Shack and racing cars through the back roads. They would have had a great time visiting the family and checking out their old haunts of better times. He was as excited as him. It had been too long, much more time than he had thought it would be. Running off half way around the world would do that to you. The homesickness went away, but a part of him was always there.
Right now his heart was torn. He didn't really think it was a good idea to go. In a way, it was out of obligation he was flying home. The mood to celebrate was miniscule compared to the overwhelming grief that threatened to consume them both. They were falling down the spiraling chasm of grief that threatened to steal the air from their lungs drowning them in despair, but managing to hang on by the frayed, thin thread of sanity. Today was another day they were to walk the earth and they damn well were going to live it. Duty called and he was the prodigal son returning home.
Thomas leaned back in his cramped coach seat and closed his eyes. He readjusted his earphones making sure to block out the incessant whir of the plane engines and central air system. The plane would be landing in a few hours, and yet he had not gotten one second of sleep. His heart was heavy, and his mind begged for some rest from the emotional overload that he was trying to process.
Yanking his earphones off, he fidgeted in his seat. His hand reached out for the one resting on the armrest between them. He managed to offer a weak smile. "We'll be there soon."
"Yeah, I know."
"You've been sitting like that for a long time. Do you want me to hold her for a bit?"
She shook her head, and her hand went to smooth down the frazzled tufts of hair on the sleeping child's head. "I'm fine." Turning her head back towards the window, she continued to stare blankly out the window watching the rising sun through the crack of window.
At the time it seemed like a good idea to take her away for a bit. He was still reeling from the shock of what had to be the biggest betrayal ever seen. What was even more mind-boggling was the way that Tsukushi took it all in stride as if it were no big deal. When it came down to it, she honestly admitted to knowing about the affair for quite some time.
Raw emotions fueled stupid actions and careless words to be said. He had taken the news any better himself, but it was a lot better than how Akira handled it. Thomas wondered to himself if they managed to clean up all that blood. They all dealt with things differently. The first immediate thought was about whose side to take. Nothing had ever split the group like this. After all the shit they had been through, this was the mother of all fuck offs.
"So, you didn't tell me why you late for the flight. I almost thought we would miss the plane. It was a good thing I decided to drive over to pick you up." Tsukushi eyes warily studied his face. It was the look that spoke volumes that she suspected something of him. "Why were you late?"
"I guess, I forgot to set my alarm," he lied. "I had a lot of loose ends I had to take care of."
"I assume this loose end has a name."
"You know I don't kiss and tell."
"I will find out sooner or later," she smirked.
"I don't want to talk about it," he warned. "We're going to land soon. Try to get some sleep." Thomas turned away from her and pulled his earphones back on.
God, I wish you were here, Susumu.
"Hey, Dad," he yawned. His entire appearance was rumpled and tired looking. After spending the last eighteen hours transferring from one stop over to the other, he was happy to make a mad dash off the plane. Shrugging his duffel bag to the ground, he reached forward and briefly hugged the man before him.
"Tom," his father gruffly replied.
Years had really come and gone for his father. The first thing he noticed was the way, his father's demeanor seemed to be much more lax than he remembered. The strait laced Navy captain was no more. Never would he imagine him as the type to walk around on a Sunday afternoon in jeans and a beat up flannel shirt. His baseball cap shielded most of his face hiding whatever expression was under there. What was most shocking was the five o'clock shadow bordering on beard stretching across his lower face.
"She was too busy helping your sister with another one of her life shattering crises," he slightly chuckled.
"I can remember a few of those when she was in high school," Thomas laughed back. "For some odd reason they always ended with me wearing lipstick."
"This is one of those times that regret working all the time. I would never have let your sister emasculate you and your brother," he happily played along.
Thomas was pushed back a bit by the easiness conversation. The last time they had spoken in person was a bit more angry and awkward. Then again, it seemed unlikely they would ever have the same rapport with the spiteful words exchange at their last meeting. Forced phone conversation instigated by his mother only led to brief salutations and other small pleasantries. His words had cut deep into him, and coming from a man whose respect was all he had ever strived for was the breaking point.
"Well, at least I know my skin tone completely clashes with berry splash,'" he chuckled. He stepped aside and motioned for Tsukushi to come forward.
During the brief exchange between father and son, she had opted to stay on the sidelines to observe. Clutching the sleeping child in her arms, she weakly smiled unsure of how to address the Thomas' father. All she knew of him were the few anecdotes he and her brother had mentioned over the years.
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. McKay." She hugged Kaya tightly to her chest bowing slightly as was the custom of her homeland.
He bowed back at her feeling oddly reminiscent of his years in Japan. "No need for formalities. You can just call me Eddie. I won't have any of this Mr. McKay business." A small smile spread over his lips as he studied the toddler clinging to her mother. "And this must be little Kaya."
Kaya's large brown eyes studied the man in silent contemplation. She shook her head vigorously before shyly burying her face into her mother's shoulder.
"Sorry about that. She's still a bit disoriented from the plan trip. It was her first time and all."
"I understand." He nodded. "Let's just get on home. I'm sure the flight was long and you're all tired. You have all of your luggage?"
"Yeah, Dad. We packed light since we're only going be here for a little while. Tsukushi didn't have much time to pack and all." He reached for the roll along suitcase and his own duffle bag hoisting it over his shoulder with ease. "All I know is that I could use a good shower. I bet Kaya here, could use a nice warm bed to sleep in, too. Isn't that right, sweetheart?"
The familiar face and voice roused Kaya from her but of shyness. She reacted instantly to him reaching out her chubby arms for him to hold her. "Tom," she whined. Her fists clenched and unclenched while she struggled in her mother's arms to be released.
Tsukushi apologetically shrugged her shoulders, and took her suitcase from Thomas' hand. "I think it would be better if you took her before she throws a fit."
Thomas willingly obliged scooping the girl up with one arm with practiced ease. "She's never any trouble. We should get a move on to beat the morning traffic, though." He began to walk away whispering little things to Kaya making her giggle as they walked out of the nearly empty airport.
Tsukushi fell back a few steps taking in the fact that she was one American soil. Oddly enough it was her first trip out of the country. Taking in a deep breath of fresh air when they walked out of the sliding doors, she exhaled in contentment of not having to breathe in any more recycled airplane air.
Eddie swiftly took the handle of her suitcase away form her pulling it behind him. "Let me take that."
"Thank you," she automatically replied. She averted her eyes away from him not wanting you see that all too familiar look that everyone had been giving her lately. Pity was something she didn't want anymore of, but lately that was all she was getting.
Thomas took a quick glance over his shoulder noticing Tsukushi's discomfort. He frowned to himself wondering if his father had decided to shove his foot into his mouth. "Yo, old man, get the lead out! We ain't got all day!" he yelled in Japanese.
"What did you just call me!" his father roared. "Apparently you're not too old for me to beat some sense into you."
He smirked and held out Kaya in front of him as a shield. "Not when I have her."
"Don't use my daughter as a human shield," Tsukushi laughed. Her laughter surrounded them as she watched his father try to get a good swat with Thomas swinging Kaya in the air as a shield to her own delight.
Kaya squirmed as her legs were swung every which way. She screamed in sheer delight at being manhandled like a rag doll. "Down, Tom!" she commanded. When her feet touched the ground, she wobbled a bit, but latched herself onto the older man's leg.
Ed raised an eyebrow wondering what the meaning of her actions were, but soon caught on when Thomas jumped onto his back. In his own confusion, he had missed his son sneaking up from behind him in an ambush attack.
"Take him down, Kaya!"
Nonplussed, by the weight, Eddie shrugged and continued walking out the airport with his son riding his back and a little Japanese girl hugging his leg.
"Wow," Tsukushi breathed. She looked up at the long stretch of the circular driveway weaving its way up to the front entrance of the house. "You did no justice when you told me about this place.'
Thomas smiled to himself knowing full well that his vague description of the property was nowhere near to seeing it in front of you. A sense of peace washed over him to be in a place he could truly call home from his childhood. Of all the places he had gone and seen nothing compared to his grandparents' home in Virginia where he spent many summers of his youth. He dug his hands into the pockets of his jeans kicked at the gravel driveway they were walking up. "I know."
Tsukushi sighed to herself studying the slow setting of the sun in the horizon over the tops of the trees in the woods to her right. The clatter of people running around somewhere in the far distance was clearly heard over the chirping of crickets. She squinted her eyes to make out the wedding planner's workers setting up the chairs in the back of the house where the wedding ceremony would take place. A small pang wrenched through her heart at all the joy and celebration going around her own clouded heart. "I never thought this wedding would be on such a grand scale," she absently noted.
"Anything that involves my mother, Caroline, and frou-frou girly junk leads to an occasion of gigantic proportions. Just remember for the next few days to stay away from the rampaging herd of beastly pink covered harpies before you get sucked into their web of floral arrangements and seating charts."
"They were pretty nice girls, your sister's bridesmaids. I think her maid of honor even had a little thing for you. You did manage to distract the girl enough to make her walk into that wall. I don't believe her excuse about carrying so all those dresses and not seeing where she was going. She was obviously distracted by someone."
He puffed up his chest in pride. "Well, that'll teach her for turning me down for a date when I was fifteen. She must be kicking herself for turning this down."
"I take back my previous comment. Maybe she was just distracted by your big head," Tsukushi giggled. She barely dodged Thomas as he lunged at her for what was most likely payback.
Instead of punishing her for her comment, he threw both arms around her pulling her back into his front. Resting his chin on her shoulder, he sighed. "Being here makes me miss home more."
"This is your home."
"Not anymore," he sighed.
Tsukushi tilted her head back to try to read the expression on his face. However, she couldn't figure out exactly what was going through his mind. Although he was boisterous and happy in front of his family, his enthusiasm heavily veiled the emptiness it covered. Sometimes she shook off the strangeness to the mourning of her brother, but something more was there. She never asked. Once she had tried to ask her brother why Thomas was even with him. It was obvious he didn't really need them. He had the potential for true greatness, yet he spent his time in a dank club spinning mixes and playing the occasional cover on his guitar. She saw his self-induced waste.
Instinctively she turned her head to the right. Her eyes met with the intense glare of another woman across the lawn. At first Tsukushi shrugged off the bad vibe being sent her way as her own paranoia as a stranger to the family. But when her gaze never wavered, she shuddered at the blatant disdain being directed at her.
Thomas felt her tremors and rubbed his hands up and down her bare arms thinking she was cold from the small chill left from the end of rain that morning. "Are you cold? Maybe we should go inside."
She shook her head and continued to glance back at the dark haired woman. In her own observations, she was rather beautiful, with her exotic dark features. Glossy black hair hung down her back over her bare tan shoulders. Under different circumstances, Tsukushi would have found her general appearance to be quite friendly if not for the gross scowl on her face. She assumed the woman must have some kind of money based on her attire. Everything about her finely styled hair to the flawless manicure screamed she was a lady of class. Her expression only softened when a little chubby boy with the same matching raven hair stumbled to her legs grabbing on to her with ferocity and pleading to be picked up. She smiled down at the little boy and whispered something to him earning an energetic nod of his head. Picking him up, she walked away, but not without one last glance at Tsukushi.
"Who was that woman?" Tsukushi asked.
"The one to our right. She just walked off with that little boy."
Thomas turned to see who Tsukushi was speaking of thinking it would probably be one of his many relatives staying at the house before the wedding the next day. The smile on his lips fell at the woman. "I didn't think she would show up," he muttered to himself. He quickly released his arm from Tsukushi and walked a few steps forward to get a better look at the woman's back.
She turned around quickly to take another hurried glance at them, but this time she was caught. Her eyes locked with his paralyzing her. The anger was replaced with a degree of unexplainable fear shifting to an apologetic sadness.
Tsukushi stepped forward placing her hand on Thomas' shoulder to get his attention. "She was giving us the oddest look." She decided it would be a wiser decision to not mention the odd look was more of a murderous glare.
"Stay away from her. Whatever you do just stay the hell away from her," he commanded.
"Just do as I say, okay!" he grit out between clenched teeth. His finger ran through his hair in a nervous manner as he began pacing. "I'm sorry. If anyone asks where I went just say I'll be back in time for the rehearsal dinner. I can't deal with this shit."
Her hand shot out to grab him, but he was faster than her. Feeling her hand wrap around air, she watched him stalk off around the house. A few minutes later, the sound of a car speedily pulling out of the driveway was left in his wake signaling he had run off.
She dumbly stood there wondering what the hell had happened, but thought better than to try to figure out what had happened. A few of the workers setting up the chairs and decorations for the ceremony tomorrow stopped to stare at her wondering what had happened between the rather peaceful looking couple. Shaking her head, she turned around and walked back into the house thinking it might be a better idea to go upstairs and crawl into bed to join her in a nap.
Hours later, Tsukushi woke up to an empty bed. In her own disorientation, she panicked at the barren area where her daughter once resided. Shooting up from the bed, she scanned the room for any signs of her being.
"Looks like Mommy is awake," a feminine voice announced.
Kaya sat in a woman's lap on the couch. She didn't seem to really care about her mother's awakening, but continued to flip the pages of a book the woman was holding out for her. She excitedly pointed at something squealing, "Tom!"
The woman in turn looked down at what the little girl was pointing at and agreed with her. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled back into a French braid. Wearing a pair of tan capris and a pale lavender blouse, she lazily reclined back on the couch. Her striking blue eyes lit up in amusement at the photograph. "I almost forgot about this picture of Tommy."
"What did I tell you about calling me that," the older woman sternly reprimanded. "In this house we're all family."
Tsukushi groggily rubbed her eyes and sheepishly bowed her head. "Sorry, I meant Liz."
She smiled at getting her way. "Now that's more like it. Why don't you freshen up a bit and then join Kaya and me for some more pictures."
At the mention of pictures, Kaya enthusiastically began pounding her hands on the book repeating, "Pictures, Mama!"
Tsukushi nodded her head and slipped out of the bed. Her feet hit the cold wooden floorboard sending shivers up and down her body. Patting her daughter softly on the head, she walked by the two to use the bathroom outside the room. Upon her return, she noticed Kaya had already curled up into a tiny ball and was fast asleep like a cat sitting in Liz's lap. The woman quietly sat there stroking her hand along the little girl's back in a soothing motion.
"Oh, it must not be very comfortable sitting there like that. She's quite heavy. How about I move her to the bed?"
"No, I'm fine. It's nice to have little ones around the house again. It seems like forever since I held Caroline, Tom, or Jacob like this. She's fine." She looked up at Tsukushi with tired eyes and smiled softly. Small fine creases appeared around her mouth and near her eyes revealing her age. "Sit," she ordered patting the space beside her.
Tsukushi did as she told sitting rigidly beside the woman she barely knew. It was rather uncomfortable being in the house where everyone knew of her situation, yet treated her as if they had known her forever. The looks of sympathy were few, but there nonetheless. "Your house is really beautiful,' she blurted out to clear the awkward silence.
Liz leaned back into the cushions of the couch and sighed to herself in contentment. "This house has been in my family for almost a century now. One of my ancestors built it with his own two hands. Its been remodeled a few times over the years, but the layout of everything has remained virtually the same. It's seen more than a few in my family being born, married, or die. My entire family history is in this house." She wistfully ran her fingers through Kaya's hair. "But that's not a very interesting topic to discuss. I would much prefer to talk about my son."
"Tell me, dear. Is my son happy?"
She didn't know how to respond to such a question. Happiness. It was such a vague emotion to her as of late. She almost forgot what it meant to be in such a state. Thinking very hard, she wondered what kind of answer was required in such a situation.
"You don't need to answer that. It was a stupid question asked by a silly old woman."
There was that trace of worry in her voice that sent the alarms on in Tsukushi's head. Something just wasn't right. It wasn't normal for someone to be worried about Thomas. He was the kind of guy that you didn't need to worry about, the reliable one of the bunch. His carefree smiles and detached attitude made it difficult to ever consider him being any other way. But then again, she had witnessed that little scene earlier. Coupled with his strange behavior since their arrival, she had to wonder what secrets he was hiding. Questions arose to whether all that time she had known him in Japan was a façade, a carefully constructed wall of lies he erected around himself.
"Did Thomas return yet?" she asked trying not to let any of her worry escape in her tone.
"He did about two hours ago. The boy stormed into the house in a huff and locked himself in his room. No one's heard from him since. Care to share why he's been in such a foul mood? It's no use trying to hide it from me. A mother knows these things."
Sheepishly, she lifted her head to look the woman in the eyes. Piercing blue eyes much like Thomas' reflected back at her. The brief consideration of lying did cross her mind. She was not one to tattle on someone else's affairs. But something inside her told her to speak up for her own curiosity was also piqued. "I really don't know. Thomas and I were outside talking one moment. The next thing I know there is this woman glaring at me with her son. I asked Thomas if she knew her and he took off mad as hell."
"Oh," she mouthed. "Well, that does explain a lot. I was afraid he wouldn't take well to this."
"If you don't mind me asking, who is she?"
She hesitated to answer. An inner struggle was apparent from her eyes as she debated on whether or not to say anything. "She was something to Tom."
Tsukushi agreed to let the subject drop. It was not right for her to try to pry information out of the woman. If Thomas refused to answer her inquiry of the woman before, then there must have been a good reason. "He doesn't say much about himself to begin with. He's always been reserved about speaking of his life here. Susumu would always be the one to bring up stories from the 'good old days' as he liked to call them."
Liz clasped a hand over her mouth giggling like a young schoolgirl. "You're brother was quite the character. He was a real piece of work."
"Quite a few people would agree with you on that." Tsukushi felt a faint smile cross her lips. "Susumu would always force Thomas to rehash all of their old stories from their college days."
"It was a pity they only barely got through one year of school. But I always told Tom to follow his heart." She glanced at the setting sun and heaved a deep sigh. Gently she maneuvered Kaya off of her lap and left her leaning against a pillow on the couch. "I should get going. Caroline must be going crazy with all the caterers for the rehearsal dinner. You should start getting ready for yourself. It'll be quite the party."
She pattered out of the room closing the door behind her with barely a sound. Not much had been said, but an air of uneasiness had been created. Something was troubling her, but Tsukushi didn't know what exactly. However, something told her that there might be more to Thomas than she ever imagined. She never really asked herself why he was the way he was or even questioned the life he led. It all seemed so natural.
Rummaging through her suitcases, Tsukushi pulled out a simple cocktail dress that Yuuki had helped her pick out before they left Japan. She momentarily checked on her slumbering daughter estimating she had a good hour or two before she would wake up. With that thought on her mind, she strode towards the bathroom to prepare for the night's festivities.
He heard her footsteps as she stopped and walked past his door. The slight pang in his heart did little to quell the raging anger in pulsing through his entire being. One would think that years later he would have gotten over the fact of what had happened, but not even time could change the way he felt.
Anger does take away the pain.
For a little while…
Thomas trudged over to the window and stared down at the wide expanse of land below him. The sun had long set and the bright illumination of twinkling lights lit up the property. It must have been his sister's idea to have every spare inch of the reception perimeter covered in strung lights. He tried his best to be happy for his sister, but the idea of love and marriage were foreign.
Eighteen, young, and stupid, he had given his heart away thinking that they were meant to be something great. It was an idiotic thing to do, but at the time, it felt right. It felt like the real deal, the kind of love that his mother told him to wait for. The sort of thing his parents had. But in the end, it had been all one giant misunderstanding, the kind where he found out that it was more one sided than he thought it to be.
He gazed at the posters adorning his wall like wallpaper plastering every spare inch of space. A small chuckle fell from his lips as he wondered if he could remember what color the room was painted before he put them all up. Some of the posters were from his favorite bands growing up and a few from the days back when he toured with his own band. Sure, they were only the opening act for most of the shows, but being on the road was the best time of his life.
In retrospect, he shouldn't have expected anything less from the life of the musician. Passion ran rampant like the sweat pouring off your body during that adrenalin pumped performance. It was a never ending infused high whether from the drugs being passed around like gum or the lustful groupies prostrating themselves for a piece of what they deemed fame. But he was the good boy in the band, the one the other's always poked fun at for being so damn faithful. It sure as hell didn't help him in the end, though.
Rachel was the one.
That was what he had told himself when the first met her. It's rare that you meet someone and connect on some level like no other person in your life. He always expected that he would meet the women he was destined for when he was much older and perhaps more established in life. He really fell hard for the girl. She had him from the first moment she turned around in homeroom and introduced herself to the new kid. Eyes blazing a verdant green looking directly into his soul leaving her mark of possession in its wake brought all time to a standstill.
That was ages ago, when he felt his heart come alive in a rhythmic thumping that got his head spinning and his palms sweating. Rachel Young was the girl a man could lose himself in for the rest of his life. She was the one he would have given anything to have as his own.
Thomas sighed in frustration for letting these thoughts bother him. No matter how hard he tried, his heart would not let him push aside those deeply rooted emotions for her. It was his burden of a good heart kept him from cursing her very existence and wishing that he would be the one standing in front of her watching her life turn into utter shit. But he knew the truth of the matter and all he could muster up was a strange sense of longing for what could have been and the grim pity of what had become.
The raw emotions that welled up inside of him at the sight of Rachel coupled with his avoidance of his father was building up. Things were going well so far with the brief exchanges between the two. They were being civil to each other when in front of others, but the stifling awkwardness always lingered in the air. Every little comment veiled a threat behind it waiting to come out as some sort of provocation. They were just too stubborn to come out and say what was on their minds. It was bad enough when his father had thoughtlessly asked what he planned to do for the future considering how his sister was moving on in the next phase of her life. That led to some harsh stares and a slap from his mother to bring up such a topic at the dinner table. It didn't help either when Tsukushi tried to speak up on his behalf on the success he had at the club.
To his father, he was just wasting away his time playing deejay in a bordello of alcoholism and delinquency.
He shook his head clearing it of anything remotely disagreeable and focused on the voice outside his room. "Yeah, Tsukushi. You can come in. I'm almost ready."
The door slowly creaked open revealing the younger girl timidly standing in the hall. She gripped the hand of her daughter as she led her into the room. Both looked pristine in every aspect, not a single hair out of place. It was pretty obvious that Tsukushi was nervous about not being presentable in front of his family. All the reassurances that she was like family did little to lessen her level of attentive politeness.
The smile was immediately put on his face to steer her away from any signs of his own distress. It was only fair that he suffer alone. The entire point of the trip had been to force her into a change of scenery to regroup in the aftermath of the last few months.
"My dates are looking lovely as usual," he charmingly complimented her as he fixed the collar of his shirt. "I may make a few of the other guys jealous, but I'll take their flack."
Tsukushi shuffled into the room taking a seat on his bed. Her head turned slowly as she took in the bedroom from his youth. Kaya was released from her mother's hold to bolt towards him. She scrabbled at his legs clawing at him to pick her up. Without giving it a second thought, he picked her up and tossed her in the air catching her in his arms. Howls of laughter poured out of the little girl.
"Thomas! It took me an hour to get her cleaned up. Don't mess up what I've done."
He shook his head. "Kids get dirty, Tsukushi. It's the circle of life. Plus, no one will notice if she's a little wrinkly. This little girl is way to cute to notice something like her wrinkled clothes." To prove his point, he dramatically threw her onto the bed and began rolling her from side to side tickling her. "Roly, poly, big stromboli!"
"Tom!" Kaya screamed. She thrashed about he bed fighting off his nimble fingers touching her in all the right tickle spots. Finally, she rolled away from his clutched to crawl behind her mother wrapping her arms around Tsukushi's neck. "Mama! Tom being bad!"
"What!" he gasped placing a hand over his heart. "Tom is never bad, Kaya."
"Tickle Kaya," she accused. "Bad, Tom." To emphasize her point, she stuck her tongue out at him.
"Okay, okay. Tom promises not to tickle you anymore. Although I can't say the tickle monster can control himself."
"Stop teasing her," Tsukushi scolded him. She fought the smile crawling over her lips in an attempt to keep a straight face. "It's okay, baby. Mama, will keep the tickle monster away from you." She turned to face him and finally burst out laughing. "I almost forgot how I used to find you rolling her around the apartment like a ball saying 'roly, poly, big stromboli'.
"And you tried to kill me every time for doing that. Come to think about it, so did Susumu." A far away glaze cast over his eyes as memories of the past consumed him. Lately he had been having a lot of moments like this. Someone would open a door and he would half expect his best friend to be behind it. Every word spoken, every action ever done had been witnessed by these walls holding the secrets to lives that gave no though to them.
"Sometimes I wonder about you, Thomas."
His rakish grin did little to persuade her into believing that he would allow her the tiniest bit of leeway to getting her answers. In some ways, Thomas was just the master of the imperturbable smile, the exact one that Akira wore so often. The difference was that Thomas had perfected it so long ago it had been adopted in his daily life at all times until the point where it was him. That smile and him were one and the same. And right now it was bugging the hell out of her.
"Stop fussing over me. I've got better things to do than to wear down that glare you've got on me," He grabbed Kaya and walked to the door. "We've got a party to get to."
"Why are you over here by your lonesome self? How about a dance, then"
Tsukushi looked up from her cup of punch to meet the gaze of a very persistent young man. Only two years her senior, Jacob McKay was a force to be reckoned with. There is not a single doubt in the world that every boy in that family had been born to be a heartbreaker. She secretly assumed that his persistence to stay by her side had been induced by Thomas asking for someone to look out after her. After all, Thomas already had his hands full fending off the horde of bridesmaids vying for his attention. His dance card was filled within five minutes of setting foot in the party.
Coyly she looked up under heavy lidded lashes. "Why not? It seems that Kaya and Thomas have some time before they get back to me." She gladly accepted his hand and let him lead her off onto the dance floor. She giggled as he dramatically flung her out into a full twirl before pulling her into his arms.
Jacob's grin spread wider at Tsukushi's acceptance of his flirtations. "Like mother, like daughter. Kaya's a sweet lil thing. Dad might not ever give her back." He jerked his head in the direction of his father spinning Kaya a few feet away. It was questionable who was more delighted by their partner.
"She's got that effect on people."
"She's a pretty good dancer, too."
"Thank god for that." Her face scrunched up at a rather distasteful thought. "Her father has two left feet. It's a wonder how her musically inclined genius father can't carry the rhythm to dance."
"Ah, the infamous father! Dad threatened to take the next flight out to Japan when Susumu told him you were pregnant. Felt it was his duty to defend your honor."
"Everyone seems to think they have a right protect me from everything," she grimaced. It may surprise them that I have a few secrets of my own."
Jacob leaned down resting his forehead against hers. "I can see what they all see. You're the kind of girl guys like me wished were waiting at home for them," he sighed. He wistfully smiled at her thinking of how he was to report back to the base as soon as the wedding was over. His life held little time except for basic training at the naval academy.
"Still hurting over the fact that your girlfriend broke up with you, huh?"
"News travels fast around here." He chuckled at how anything in his life was never kept a secret from the rest of the family. "Sarah and I dated for three years. She said she couldn't see herself with me living the life I lead. I can't hate her for telling me the truth. We were good to have lasted so long." His eyes darted to the corner at the gaggle of women suspiciously eyeing him and his brother on the dance floor.
"It hasn't been any easier on Tom with all of Caroline's friends fawning over him and avoiding Rachel," he muttered. "Didn't think she would have the guts to show her face around here after what went down. Even had the gall to bring the kid with her."
Her delicate eyebrow rose at his comment. "Who's Rachel?"
The look of disgust on his face mirrored that of Thomas' attitude toward the woman she had seen earlier. "She is Dave's wife. Dave is our cousin on my Mom's side." His foot tripped up in mid step of the dance as he fumbled to find the correct words. "Let's just say that he isn't exactly our favorite cousin."
Something was certainly not right. She was sure of it. It was clear that no one I the family appeared to like this Dave or his wife. But the reason was still unknown to her. A gut feeling told her there was more to it with the way that woman had looked at Thomas earlier. She couldn't shake that feeling.
"Hey, it's a party. We should be enjoying ourselves," he offered. He picked up the pace as the tempo of the next song increased. Winking at her, he signaled her to follow his lead.
She was barely there on that dance floor as she thought back to everything that had transpired before they came here. Thomas almost backed out at the last minute citing the fact that he couldn't leave her behind in the state she was in. Considering her past track record, she couldn't blame him. But she wasn't as heart broken as she was before. Tsukushi hated the way they all treated her, some helpless child that could barely exist without the world carrying her through it. Each and every one of those men that were considered brothers by Susumu saw to it as their personal missions that she continue as if he was still by her side. Junpei and Thomas were at the forefront. They had argued long into the night when Thomas suggested taking her to America with him. She had to agree that being away from the rest of them had lessened the strain and aggravation that usually developed with the way they all walked on eggshells around her.
She wasn't a fucking basket case like they thought she was.
And that was what brought her back to her initial conclusion that even though they had all gone through so much together, said they would lay their lives down for each other on more than one occasion, none of that meant anything because they were no more than strangers to each other. She had the luxury of being granted access to their sordid pasts, a fact she at times wished she did not have. To be the holder of the secrets of others can be a heavier burden than being the one with the secret.
Tsukushi realized at that moment that not once had she ever questioned what Thomas' deal was. Everyone else had a reason for being at Last Resort, and in retrospect, a guy like Thomas really didn't need to be there. Perhaps he was more broken that any of them every considered. People didn't stay with them for the fun of it. They stayed to get away from something, their skeletons in the closet. Yet again, she found herself coming to that bleak realization that not everyone is as they seem. Thomas was probably just as fucked up as the rest of them. To run away separating an ocean and thousands of miles of land between his present and his past had to be a sign that he was running away from something bigger than anything he could handle.
"Care to switch partners?"
She turned to see Thomas and Caroline dancing up beside them. Thomas suggestively waggled his eyebrows displaying his more than normal playful behavior. "I guess," she shrugged.
At that response, Tsukushi found Jacob ripped from her arms and his sister put in his place. The two boys dramatically pulled the other closer and swaggered away doing a quickstep earning laughs from nearby spectators. The two seemed to be soaking up the attention with their antics.
"So, should I lead or you?" Caroline sighed.
"I'll lead," Tsukushi offered. "Those two really know how to steal the spotlight."
"Believe me, I've seen those two bozos at their worst. They're just warming up. They have a few years to make up for. Tommy and Jacob are a bad combination after a prolonged absence. The only other person I've ever seen Tommy so bad with was your brother."
"I can vouch for that one, too. Those two could be real idiots when they wanted to."
The song came to an abrupt end and they glanced over to see Thomas dip his brother low with great flourish earning cheers from the crowd. They smirked to each other bowing to their adoring audience before fleeing the scene on the dance floor with promises to return for a second show. Caroline shook her head and chose to ignore them. After all, big sisters usually had to ignore the stupidity of their younger siblings no matter what age they were. She grabbed Tsukushi's hand and tugged her off the dance floor while using her other hand to take a bottle of champagne from a passing waiter.
"Grab some glasses," she ordered.
Tsukushi spun just in time to grab two filled glasses from a tray whizzing by. Droplets of liquid fell to the ground from the overfilled glasses, but she quickened her pace to catch up with Caroline. The older girl was quite strong to drag her through the throng. When they finally reached a secluded spot by an old oak tree with its lonely swing swaying back and forth in the breeze, Caroline unceremoniously yanked her heels off her feet and popped open the bottle of champagne. For a woman who seemed so composed and put together her current image was a stark contrast from the previous.
"God, I needed to get away from that party before I snapped," she groaned. She ran her fingers though her tresses after pulling it out of the neat chignon it had been in. "Between my parents, Noah's parents, and the stress of planning this three hundred guest wedding, I'm about done for now. Tomorrow is the big day and I am not going to spend it being sucked into that vacuum of idle chit chat with people I barely know congratulating me. I love my girlfriends, but I could just use some nice girl talk that preferably doesn't involve the topics of flowers, cakes, or seating charts."
Tsukushi stifled a laugh. There was something oddly comedic about how easily it was for her to let that calm, composed façade crumble. Now she was seeing the family resemblance. She slid into the swing and dug her heels into the ground propelling herself forward to create some momentum. Taking one of the offered champagne glasses, she took a long swig like her companion. "Thank god. I thought I was only one who was clawing on the inside to get out of there. I've had enough of the weird looks for tonight. It was even worse that Thomas wouldn't tell me why they were all looking at me."
Caroline tipped her head back to stare up at the star illuminated sky. A heavy sigh fell from her lips. In a daze she responded, "He didn't tell you about the Rachel thing, I presume."
"There's that girl again. She's been giving me the creeps. That look of accusation like I stole something from her is getting real old."
A throaty laugh echoed in the night air. "In a way, I can see why she thinks that. Kaya could remotely pass as Tommy's daughter. Although a woman scorned tends to think along the lines of the insane track." She slumped down onto the grass with her back pressed up against the trunk of the tree. "I see why Sam raved about you all the time. You seem to be everything he described you as."
"My brother had the tendency to exaggerate." She smiled to herself as the air whipped at her face. Slowly the swing picked up more speed as her legs pumped in rhythm to increase her speed.
"He was a charmer that one. I knew from the second I first met him. Samuel Shinimori had heartbreaker written all over him from the second I laid my eyes on him."
"I haven't heard many people refer to him by his Christian name. He was adamant about using it when father sent him to America. His mother picked the name."
"It means requested of God," she murmured to herself. "It fit him."
"I was a little nervous coming here at first. All I knew was stories my brother and Thomas told me about your family. I didn't think it was a good idea for me to come, but I'm glad I did. Your family has been nothing less than welcoming."
"Your brother was family to us and so are you," she corrected. Opening her eyes she watched Tsukushi rising higher and higher off the ground. "And family helps each other when they are in need. That's the way our family works. Blood means nothing. I couldn't believe it when I go the call about what happened. I wanted to rush over on the next flight when Tommy called. He was hysterical. I could barely understand what he was trying to tell me. He probably is embarrassed for saying this to me seeing as how unmanly it is, but he really did believe a piece of his heart was broken off when Sam died." She stopped realizing her carelessness. "Sorry, I don't think I should have brought up that topic. Then again, I've never been one to believe that ignoring the truth is a healthy means to deal. Neither is dragging it out with long talks about feelings. I honestly don't think that you need another person pestering you about if you're okay or not. You're here, so I suppose you are alright and we can leave it at that."
Her head perked up and her feet dug into the ground bringing the swing to an abrupt halt. "You're the first person to realize that."
Caroline threw her head back giggling to herself. "Life is ironic in so many ways. I vaguely recall Sam giving my brother the same advice I'm giving you. At that point, Tommy was sitting around on his sorry ass wallowing in his own self pity."
Fingers played with the hem of her dress ruffling and straightening the charmeuse overlay. The dress was beautiful or that was the general consensus that had been given when she walked down the steps to meet with the rest of the family. The delicate teal sheath swathed over her body fit quite well considering her recent weight loss. "I was wondering about that. No one else seems to want to tell me about whatever it is between Thomas and that Rachel woman. What happened between them?"
She cocked her head to the side wondering if it was wise to reveal Thomas' darkest secret. It wasn't her story to tell really, but to leave the poor in the dark seemed to be a worse fate than ignorance. "Come sit over here and I'll tell you then." She patted the expanse of grass beside her and waited for the woman to take her place. Her eyes remained trained on the party up ahead. The prospect of being interrupted in the middle of the story was quite unappealing. "You don't know about his past, do you?" she bluntly asked.
Feeling stupid she answered truthfully. "I guess I don't. Seems silly to trust someone you know nothing about, but that has been what I've gone with most of my life. The people you don't know are usually the ones who will be there for you in the end."
"There is some truth to that fact. More than you know actually. It's hard to explain really. Back then everything seemed relatively simple. You have to understand that Rachel wasn't always the way she was. I don't even know the whole story. All I have are the bits and pieces I got from Tommy. He loved her more than anything in this world. She was his wife."
"His wife? But… He never once mentioned… I don't…"
Caroline nodded her head. "I would assume he doesn't talk much about it." Her finger pinched the bridge of her nose to relive the headache that was coming on. "When we were kids Dad's job forced us to be moved around a lot. The only permanent roots we had anywhere were here at our grandparent's house. Rachel and Tommy just sorta grew up together over the years. We always spent our summers here and Rachel was the girl from church whose pigtails Tommy couldn't resist pulling at any chance he got. At some point when I chose to stay here for high school and Dad decided it be best if the kids had a permanent home for a change, Tommy finally realized that Rachel was a girl, a girl he was quite fond of. They dated through all of high school. Eventually he got into Tisch studying music. Rachel's family was never rich or anything, so she was supposed to stay in town and work to pay for college the following year. Tommy was desperately in love with her and wouldn't leave her behind. Both being eighteen, they drove into the next town and eloped the week before he was set to move up to New York."
"A hopeless romantic, huh?"
"An idiot in love, I'd say. Mom and Dad had a coronary when they found out. They wanted them to get it annulled as soon as possible. Everyone was shocked they would do something so stupid. You have to understand that even though Tommy doesn't realize it, Dad has always taken to him more than the rest of us. He had high hopes for him, but nothing worked out the way he wanted it. Do you what day his birthday is?"
"July 5. Why? It's not anything usual."
A crazy laughter ensued. "I would have assumed he would hide it. Technically he wasn't lying to you all. He was born on the fourth of July and Japan is one day ahead of us. Dad's little patriotic baby. My father wanted him to be his good little son that would follow in his footsteps, serve his country, and marry good woman who would give him grandkids. He didn't expect his oldest son to renounce everything he ever wanted him and want to be a poor musician. Dad had no interest in anything musical. You can see where they would clash. Him running off and marrying Rachel set him off the edge. He told him that it was the biggest mistake of his life and that he would spend the rest of his life regretting his decision."
"And he was right."
"Dead on. Haven't you ever wondered why Tommy hasn't tried to get his music out there? It's like he prefers to waste his talent. We all know the potential he has to do great things, but now he's too scared to even dare to dream. His dream came with a price the first time around. Around the time after he dropped out of school, which yet again pissed Dad off beyond belief, he got his big break. He was close to signing a record deal with his band. They were making the college circuit and drawing up huge hype. He was practically living his dream. Then it all went to pot one bad night. I wasn't there, but your brother was. He was the one that later told me about what happened. Our cousin, Dave, was the bassist. He's a few years older than me and Tommy followed what he said believing he had more experience in the business. One night and one two many drinks their drummer got a little too wasted and leaked out the fact that Dave had been sleeping around with Rachel for a few months. At first, Tommy wouldn't believe it, but the truth came out when Rachel told him she was leaving him because she was pregnant."
With that revelation Tsukushi fond the breath knocked out of her. It was incomprehensible to believe that something like that could happen to Thomas.
"Apparently Rachel was feeling left out all the time when Thomas locked himself away to work on new songs. Dave was conveniently around. She said she had fallen in love with him. Something about Thomas closing himself off to her all the time and choosing music over her when it came down to it. Tommy was devastated to say the least. Then things got a little vague. He wouldn't speak to any family during that time. He locked himself up in his apartment secluding himself from the world. A month later he left the band and they were signed to a label. Two weeks after that he was on a plane to Japan with your brother. A few months later the band came out with their album. It was an instant hit. The band took off after that."
"She broke his heart and took everything away from him."
"More or less."
"But I don't understand. Why did he leave the band?"
"Dave was using him the entire time. Tommy wrote enough material to last a few albums. They all knew his stuff was good. Somehow Dave convinced the others to tell Tommy to leave. They filled his head with crap about there being bad vibes from him after everything with Rachel and Dave. They even got him to sign away the songs he wrote. He didn't even realize what he had done until it was too late. Those guys were laughing their asses off to the bank on his work."
"Why in the hell would he do that?"
"I don't know. It's become a habit in this family to ignore what happened. Just like how Mom and Aunt Claire choose to ignore the fact that Dave married Tommy's ex-wife. That's the kind of stuff that happens to people who don't want to look at the reality of things. No one said a word when Rachel packed up her things and moved to LA. My mother dutifully attended the wedding of her nephew to her ex-daughter in law. Not a single person commented on the fact that Tommy was devastated."
The bitterness dripped from her voice leaving little question on her opinion of the past. Tsukushi swallowed the lump in her throat trying to grapple with all this new information. In her mind, it seemed impossible for such horrible things to have occurred to Thomas. She almost believed that good things happened to good people and bad to bad people, but Thomas was that final straw that disproved that theory. Bad shit happens to everyone. And anything remotely good is rare.
"She thinks that Thomas and I?"
"Probably. The funny thing about some women are like that even after they screw up with the one good man in their life they can't let them go and have their own happiness. If you ask me she got what she deserved. I mean, Dave was always a shady character messing around with more than one girl at a time, but she should have seen that one coming. She has her mansion, her cars, and the wallet full of credit cards and money, but Dave couldn't give a shit about her. He was always a bit of a selfish bastard. I think he only married her because he knocked her up and my Aunt Claire would never allow her son to openly bring shame to her family. She made them marry as soon as the ink dried on the divorce papers. It was a small wedding slapped together before her belly began to show. She is the sorriest person you'll ever meet. And people who feel sorry for themselves can only make life bearable by making someone else's life hell."
A burning fury rose in her veins. Jealousy and envy were two emotions very dear to her heart. It was rather obvious to read into those intentions when presented. But how different was it from her own life? There was once a time when she hated Shizuka for being the one to make him happy. A few circumstances resulted in her going out of the way to make sure they felt her pain. Now it wasn't like that anymore. Bitterness can only sustain you for so long until that day you look in the mirror and realize the monster you are becoming. It comes down to that choice, the difficult decision to either be a better person to allow your heart to be crushed or thrive off the short lived victory of destruction.
Could you live with yourself?
No, she couldn't. Women like Rachel pushed away that hard to swallow humility and chose to become the very essence of a woman scorned by her own foolish mistakes. In the end, the destruction would only spread until she shattered what little good resided in her. Tsukushi prayed that her child would grow up free from his mother's influence. She knew for a fact that a parent so absorbed in hurting the world would inevitably hurt those who loved them the most.
"I can't help but pity her. It's women like her that give the rest of us a bad name. Karma does have a way of biting you in the ass, though, Betrayal always comes with a price even if it does come a little too late."
"So, you're a believer that the world will fix itself in the end?"
She wryly laughed to herself. "As hard as it is to belief I still believe in a thing called love. You can love someone so much to the point of hate, but that love will also make you realize that just have to let go."
"A hopeless romantic if there ever was one."
"Can I ask you about one other thing?" A small flicker of hope lit up inside of her. Perhaps she could finally find out her identity, some little tidbit that could at least put her mind at ease that in the end he was and did love.
Caroline put down her glass with all seriousness. Foresight told her to be prepared for the moment when she would ask. It was inevitable considering their history. "I'll tell you anything but who she is."
Tsukushi nodded her head agreeing to the terms. It was only fair to let the past lay to rest. "Do you think he ever stopped, you know, loving her even after he said he moved on?"
A few answers came to mind for various questions. None could sum up a good enough answer considering she was never in his head nor did he ever divulge much to her after they parted. But of all the things she could have asked, that was the one question that he made sure no one could ever question. She had told Caroline herself after the funeral that it was obvious he had always loved her as would she.
It was a late night call confessing every sordid detail of their affair down to the very last moments. He promised to let go, but for once, his heart could not allow him to be noble and just walk away. Although she never found the courage to see him in his final hours, he made sure that the last time he saw her would haunt her forever. One doesn't forget the man that vows to love you until his dying day and makes you believe it. Her friend was never quite the same when he said his final goodbye. To be told that the one you love was going to do as you requested and move on to marry another woman was a great blow. To know that he died without her devastated her.
Caroline wistfully recalled the days when her best friend was at her happiest. There were few days now when she could find that gaiety of youth. In Tsukushi, her brother, and even her best friend, she hoped they could find some happiness in the wreckage. For humans were not meant to be solitary creatures. There was simply one answer to her question.
"Sam believed his heart was made for Lia. It was hers until its last beat."
It was very tiring to keep that up. Even though everyone believed him to be carefree and laid back, he was anything but at the present. Thomas thought the long drive earlier would clear his head a bit, dispel his annoyance, but now that grating frustration had returned full force. The party had been a testament to the image he had created. Every corner he turned eyes were on him gauging hi reaction to everything little thing. The town was never extremely large. Everyone knew everybody else's business.
The story of his failed marriage was one of their favorite topics to bring up.
No, they would never dare to ask him in person what had happened. They were quite content in the mere speculations of a torrid affair and the questionability of paternity to the child. He didn't care who they sided for nor did they care for their sympathy. They weren't there. They could never understand why he did it. If they did, they would call him an idiot.
Staring blankly up at the sky, he resumed plucking the strings of his guitar under the cool summer night. The party had disbanded a few hours ago and the sun would most likely rise in about an hour or two. Lack of sleep never bothered him much and with the edge of the jet lag, he assumed he could make through the wedding. Beside him his cigarette lay unattended, burning away to its own content.
"I thought you gave those up?"
He looked up and his fingers stilled on the strings cutting off the dull echo of sound. "I didn't think you would have the nerve to speak to me."
She was bundled up in a silk robe standing barefoot in front of him. Her hair had been messily pulled into a ponytail with strands falling out in places. Although most would have been surprised to see her in such a frazzled state, Thomas accepted it as the norm.
Rachel decided to take his acceptance of conversation as a good sign and sat down on the edge of the stage. Her eyes nervously darted from him to the decorated stage where the band would play for the reception that night. "She's cute. Although she does resemble her mother more than you, there is a slight bit of you in her."
Thomas stifled a bitter laugh. After all this, she was that gullible to believe the rumor that Tsukushi and Kaya were his. It was understandable with Kaya's slightly Caucasian features. After all, Rui's mother had been only half Japanese and half French. A little bit of her had been passed to Kaya. Then again, people do have the tendency to believe what they want to see. Nothing stirs up more gossip than the return of the battered hero with is new wife and child to butt heads with the old wife. He lazily took a drag of his cigarette before snuffing it out. A long stream of smoke blew from his lips carried away by the wind.
"Kaya is not my daughter and Tsukushi and I are not in any way involved," he bluntly stated. "Tsukushi is Sam's sister and Kaya is her daughter with her ex-boyfriend. So, you can stop trying to kill her with your death glares every time you see them." His voice teetered off in frustration of having to explain the situation.
She knew she deserved his anger, but her pride would not allow her to take it lightly. "You really are a bastard if you think I cared that you had a daughter or a girlfriend or whatever she is. I was thinking how nice it was that you had moved on. Apparently I was wrong. I don't know why I bothered."
"Why did you bother then? I'm a bastard end of story. Thanks for clearing that one up." Thomas plucked out another cigarette from the pack he had picked up earlier and lit it up. He really had promised himself that he would never go back to smoking after he quit a few years back, but sometimes there are people in this world that have the power to remove all your willpower.
Her arms crossed her chest defensively. "You don't have to be such a jerk, you know. Dave was always right about you all along. He always said you wouldn't have the guts to make it in the business. What have you done that's so great with your life? You run out of the country and return with nothing."
That one really hit on a sore spot. All the restraint he prided in himself was tossed aside. He pulled his guitar from his lap and pushed it to the side. His face came centimeters in front of hers for the confrontation she seemed to so desperately desire. "What do you really want Rachel? You want me to come begging on my hands and knees for you to take me back. I didn't do that the first time and I sure as hell won't do it now. I was fine sitting here by myself, but you had to come out here and start something with me, didn't you? You want me to feel bad for you or something? Want me to tell you what everyone else wants to hear- that I haven't done shit since I left! What do you want!" He jumped off the stage and locked one arm on each side of her trapping her from leaving. "Tell me what the fuck you want!"
Her entire body trembled beneath his. There was only one other time she had ever seen him so incensed. That had not ended well, so there was no doubt in her mind that it would his time. She weighed her options and decided it would be in her benefit to shut her mouth.
His breaths were coming out short and labored. A voice in his head told him to refrain from hitting a woman. She wasn't the same girl he had married. She hadn't been that girl for a long time. She was Dave's wife now. And if she wanted to starts something, he was going to make sure she got what she came looking for. For once, he was going to give in to the primal urge to hurt her, to make her feel a fragment of the pain she had created in him.
"I brought Tsukushi here because I thought it would be good to get her out of Japan for a while. It seemed to be a good idea considering her brother, Sam, died a few months ago. You remember Sam! That is his sister and his niece. Drop the petty shit. And don't even think about going near her or Kaya. You've done enough. Don't think I'm that stupid to not realize that you were one spreading rumors."
After shaking out of the brief moment of shock, she composed herself to reply. "I didn't know," she whispered. A pit of dread filled her stomach at her own foolishness. Sam had always been so kind to her.
"Sam never said a fucking bad word against you and you trash talk his sister. You should be ashamed of yourself."
"I would have never said a word if I knew it was Sam's sister."
"You don't know a lot of things about me or my life. I don't even understand why the hell you came here."
A part of her wanted to keep up that image of being wealthy and happy with her life. After all, she got exactly what she had wanted. She did honestly love Thomas when they were younger, but practicality and insecurity ruled out in the end. Thomas had always been flighty with his musical aspirations. Sure, he had the talent, but his ambitions lay more in the dream of music rather than the fame and money that went along with it. Coming from a family that was nowhere as near well off as his, she had learned at a young age that love would not put food on the table.
Barely a few days into being legal, she was a wife. In retrospect, they had both been foolish to plunge into matrimony so quickly. For some strange reason, she envisioned marriage would have been much simpler. No one told her she would be signing up for minimum wage part time jobs and arguments over how money was to be spent. She envisioned life in New York to be much more glamorous. She never thought that Thomas' parents would keep him on a strict allowance for basic needs and school supplies, she didn't foresee him dropping out of school, and she definitely didn't know he would forgo school for playing in gigs with a band that barely covered a quarter of their rent. Marriage was definitely not what she thought it was.
Rachel had dreamed big dreams. But somewhere along the way, the means to attain them had shifted. When she had been young she thought if she were smart enough that she would get into a good college to find a high paying job. Those dreams had been dashed when mediocrity was the most she could attain. It never helped her confidence much with the way her parents just treated her like a pretty little girl who should have been more concerned with praying that she find a good man to take care of her. After all, someone as beautiful as her would not have much trouble finding a man to fawn over her.
Thomas was none of that. He believed she was intelligent. He believed she was strong enough to take care of herself. Most of all, he didn't seem to give a shit that everyone else thought she was just a pretty face. For some strange reason, he liked her for being her. The girl with no frills attached.
When it came down to one lonely night when Tom locked himself away in the studio to write a song and the build up of months of insecurity, it wasn't hard to explain why Dave had so easily swayed her heart. He was older and wiser about the music world. He was the reason the labels took a second glance at the band making him valuable. Dave understood her need for wealth and power, a weakness he preyed upon. One night led to many nights. Before she knew it, she was pregnant and delusional enough to believe she loved Dave. He said he would do right by her and father the child, but she knew deep down that Dave was one of those men that fed off the limelight. A few months away from her bed surrounding by adoring groupies was a hard temptation that most likely he indulged in. It didn't matter that she had his child.
She knew Thomas didn't and wouldn't have cheated on her. He wouldn't have used the same lame excuses. Dave had made himself into an infamous character in the industry, a liability to take in. Worst of all, he had two other children out there being raised by women whose names he barely knew or when he slept with them. In a few months, word was going to spread about the popular band breaking up. Eventually the press would dig up all the dirt they could use to paint their own picture of why it all happened. Her life would fall apart. But before that happened, she swore to herself she would not let Thomas have his, "I told you so".
Why was she even there?
Could she tell him the truth? The fact that he had been right all along about Dave. Tom had tried to warn her once so long ago. His exact words were, "If you go with him, you'll regret it for the rest of your life". She didn't realize how right he would be at the time. Sometimes she would catch herself looking down upon her son, Anthony, and wondering what life might have been like if he had been Thomas' child. Not like she would ever let him in on that little musing of hers.
No, he nor anyone else needed to know that the money was running low. They weren't supposed to know that she had resorted to begging her mother-in-law to take her and her grandchild in because his bastard father had basically abandoned them. That all along she was a wreck underneath the expensive clothes and arrogance.
"I don't why I'm here either," she defiantly answered. Denial was so much easier than facing the truth. "Claire practically begged that we come down for this family get together. She made a big fuss how Caroline would be so disappointed that she couldn't show off her famous cousin to her new in-laws. After all, she is marrying into a very well off family."
Thomas sneered at her faulty excuse. They both knew it was bullshit if you believed that Caroline was marrying Noah for his money and family name. Although it wouldn't be far from the truth that his Aunt Claire was overwhelmed by grief that her famous son did not show up to one of the biggest social events of the year in their small town. She loved any reason to brag about her golden child. Now that was an acceptable answer. One he could accept.
He was tired of always keeping a watchful eye for some intangible horror to befall him. Looking at Rachel, he discovered an odd emotion- indifference. No longer was that slight pang in his heart at the sight of her or some kind of false regret. He didn't care anymore. It was too tiring to care.
Years apart from her had made him realize that he wasn't the same nor was she. They had both grown up and led very different lives that had nothing to do with each other. The realization fell upon him that he didn't have any responsibility to feel anything for her or to even care about what had occurred in the past. There were bigger things to worry about. Most of all there was someone else that had slowly crept their way into his heart filling that place he once reserved for Rachel. At that moment he swore to himself he wouldn't screw up again. Maybe the foul mood he found himself in wasn't about her, but about that other girl he had still had a chance with. That is if she ever forgave him for his idiocy.
The choice was made. Looking at Rachel, he wondered why he even bothered in the first place. He laughed to himself most likely frightening the women in front of him with the sudden mood swing. He swore to himself that he would make things right the second time around. But first he had to let go his first mistake.
"I'm done. I don't care. From now on, I want nothing to do with you." Thomas backed up from her with a sad smile on his face. Whether it was out of relief or pity, he didn't know. He waved his hand in the air in finality.
"You're not worth it."
That being said, he trudged back to the house not sparing a glance at her reaction. For he didn't care what she thought anymore. He was a free man.
"Are you ready?" Jacob asked beside his brother in front of the mirror.
Thomas loosened his tie once again to begin the tedious task of retying it once again. He was never very good with the things so today was no exception to that rule. His forehead furrowed as his concentration fell on the task. "Almost. I can never get these damn ties."
"And to think you were the one to teach me how to tie my own," his brother scoffed. "So, I talked to Tsukushi last night."
"You never told her about Rachel, did you?"
His hand slipped as he jerked the knot around his neck tighter than he intended to. He choked on his gasping breaths. "Why would I tell her about that psycho?"
"Maybe because that psycho had the intention of getting you back."
"Now what the hell have you been smoking?" He scowled at his smiling brother sitting on his bed.
Jacob ran his hands through his hair. He could barely conceal the giddy smile on his face much like the one he always wore as a child when he knew something everyone else didn't. "It's pretty obvious why she came here. I heard something quite interesting yesterday. The band decided to breakup and the rumors are that it's Dave's fault. Apparently the guy had a power trip and got suckered by producers into a solo album before the fallout. Only problem is that they wanted him to go back to the material from their first album. We both know the chances of him writing anything like that are slim to none. He's close to filing for bankruptcy and is knee deep in debt. Rachel had to beg Aunt Claire to let her live with her since they lost their house and the bank froze their accounts. It's funny how Aunt Claire really can't hold her liquor or her tongue."
Now if he had been asked what his reaction to such news would have been a few months ago, Thomas would have reveled in the downfall of his wayward cousin and his wife. Perhaps he could have even spared some sympathy. He didn't have a damn clue as to why he just didn't care.
"You're a regular little gossip, aren't you? You should find better ways to occupy your time."
"I was thinking of doing that with Tsukushi."
He raised a delicate eyebrow. "Don't even think about it. Touch her and you die a very painful death."
"Geez, Dad gave me the same threat yesterday. Said I should get my head out of my ass and focus on my training."
"Sounds like something the old man would say. I can't even begin to count how many times the old man told me to 'wake up and get a real job'. My other favorite was the whole 'get your shit straight'.
"He's not like that anymore. You've got to forgive him one day. I'll admit that Dad can be a real ass sometimes, but he has changed. After he retired, he really mellowed out a lot."
"Don't bother trying to defend him to me. You wouldn't understand. You did exactly what Dad wanted for me. He wanted all his little boys to grow up to be soldiers. When that idea didn't pan out, he took one out of two as better than none. He thinks this whole music thing is just a phase. He just doesn't get it."
"You have to give him the benefit of the doubt at some point," a voice stated from the door. Caroline brushed the veil that repeatedly whipped her in the face while she made her escape from the pre-wedding insanity. Ignoring the looks of surprise on her brother's faces, she stepped forward and expertly knotted Thomas' tie.
"Some of us need to learn to mind their own damn business," he fought back. He brushed her hands aside and loosened the knot. He breathed much easier when the noose she had tied was loosened. Feeling downright aggravated at everyone and everything, he popped open the top few buttons of his shirt and left the tie to hang precariously around his neck.
Two worlds apart colliding at once into a massive explosion struggling to mesh together to make one cohesive existence was an impossible feat. There were certain aspects of his life he wished he could ignore, cite the lack of memory as those rough patches in life. Going with the motions seemed the reasonable thing to do. It was obvious that burnt bridges were not even close to being rebuilt.
"I'll do things my way, and he'll do things his way." He absently smiled brushing off any further attempt they could make for conversation. "I'm going to go check on my girls. I want to make sure Tsukushi and Kaya have good seats."
Caroline and Jacob silently watched their brother walk away as was his normal reaction of defensive escape whenever he was put in a position not to his liking. They looked to one another trying to figure out when and how those two would ever reconcile their differences. Hopes that a happy occasion like the wedding would do so seemed bleaker by the second. From the outside most wouldn't question the relationship between father and son veiled in jokes and light banter, but when it came down to the bare facts, they never could have disagreed more on what one's purpose in life was.
Nothing can hurt a parent and a child more than being told a life long passion, a dream, was a total waste of time. In essence, his father had told him he would never support him in screwing up his life for the sake of a music career.
From the looks of things, Thomas' life had escalated to a giant 'I told you so'.
But he would never back down to realize that himself.
"Are you guys ready for the big show?" Thomas asked. He spotted them right away seated in the front row next to the empty seats his mother and father would occupy.
"We've been ready for quite a bit." Tsukushi shuffled Kaya in her lap while absently glancing at the gathering mass on the lawn.
The wedding was quite over the top. She guessed there might have been well over a hundred guests for the wedding ceremony alone. The number would only grow when they later congregated for the reception where the remaining two hundred would arrive. Both bride and groom were well liked and came from respectable families in the circuit of polite society. It was one of the highlights of the season to be invited to the grand affair.
"It's a three ring circus if you ask me." He noted the overdressed and obvious busy bodies from town craning their heads in all directions shooting hungry glares for anything that would make hot gossip. Most likely they were looking for his ever elusive cousin, Dave. It wasn't every day that a bona fide rock star graced their small town. "Now I remember why I hated this town so much."
"They're not that bad. Except for the repeated question of what my relationship to you was exactly. Blank stare and some random Japanese makes them go away. Although Kaya did blow my cover when she asked why I was using Japanese, when I told her we would be speaking only English here. She's a smart little bugger. A little too smart if you ask me."
"Let them think what they want to think." He shrugged his shoulders dropping the subject. "It's a waste of time to even think of convincing them otherwise." His entire body slumped lower into his seat. With his tie lying haphazardly against his rumpled shirt, he carried off that handsome scruffy look.
The sun shone down on them unmercifully mocking them with its warmth inducing rays. A slight breeze blew through the air weaving through the crowds providing some relief. Tsukushi glanced away from Thomas who was now preoccupied with making funny faces at Kaya. In turn, she was trying to mirror his contorted expressions. Although she should have felt happy for such a beautiful day for the wedding, the tug on her heart was apparent. Her brother had always said days like this were meant to be captured forever in your soul because life was all about perfect days. It seemed that no matter how far she ran or how much she reinforced that wall around herself, he would always find little ways to haunt her. She shook her head rousing herself from the melancholy.
"Shouldn't you be getting ready for the procession?" she asked.
Thomas glanced back at the huddle of bridesmaids near the porch. By the multiple squeals, he deduced that the bride must be making her way down and that the ceremony would begin soon. Noah was being roughly pushed forward by his groomsmen egging him on about signing away his life for wedded bliss.
"It would appear so. I better get to work. I hope that Caroline doesn't kill me for this. It may not be too late to back out of this. I mean, I could still run up to the string quartet and tell them to go on as planned. I knew I should have just gotten her something from her registry."
Tsukushi vehemently shook her head. "You have got to do this," she urged. She knew exactly what he had planned. It took a lot of phone calls back and forth to get everyone to agree to this. It was meant to be his gift for his sister and his new brother-in-law. Besides, no material gift could compare with something like this. "You'd be an idiot not to. Plus Jacob will kill you if he ends up having to walk down the aisle with one of your sister's bridesmaids."
He swallowed the lump in his throat. The sweaty palms and last minute jitters were to be expected before a performance in front of a large crowd. The pressure was even greater considering this was to be on his home turf where the community had already labeled him as a failure. But he would show them all that, even his father, that he had come a long way from that rocker wannabe he grew up as. Time had given him a chance to find himself. For what it was worth, he had rarely ever had a chance like this to use his gifts for something that really mattered.
Family came above all else.
"Wish me luck," he whispered as he moved from his seat and strode down the aisle.
His eyes remained on the house in front of him. He smiled to himself at how she kept her word that she would be married in the same house his parents were married in. It was a start of a family tradition to be married in this house. While the front had been taken up for the ceremony itself, the back was alive with more people running about to set up for the reception afterwards. Taking one last leap up the steps onto the porch, he brushed past Noah giving him a quick pat on the back. He slipped through the crowds of people lining up for the procession and ducked into the sitting room off to the side where most likely the rest of his family were huddling together to have their last words.
"I'm so happy for you, honey," his mother cried dabbing at her eyes. She put away her handkerchief and busied herself with fixing her daughter's veil.
"Get a hold of yourself, dear. She's perfect," Eddie gleamed. He gently moved his wife away form their daughter. "She looks just like her mother after all. You can't beat perfection."
"You're so bad, Eddie," Liz laughed slapping him in the chest.
Jacob gave his sister one last hug and a kiss on the cheek. He leaned over and in a conspiring manner whispered something into her ear. Some private joke was made producing laughter from both sides.
"I think I can take care of myself." Caroline ruffled his head as she had always done since he was a child who would insist on holding her hand.
He felt like he was the outsider looking in. Being away for so long made him feel foreign within the presence of his family, the ones who had been with him most of his entire life. All the chances they had extended for him to reenter the inner circle had been declined with weak excuses of time constraints and responsibilities keeping him away.
In reality, he was scared to face up to the fact that he had not accomplished what he had set out to do in the first place. His own paralyzing fear was holding him back from doing anything. One too many times he had pondered over running back home and settling for a normal life. Normal equated to security.
"Hurry up and get out of that doorway, Tommy. Where have you been? We need to get one last picture of the family." Caroline ran over to him and dragged him into the group. Placing herself into a pose position she elbowed him telling him to smile.
He did as he was told and watched the hustle and bustle of activity around him. Jacob gave him a quick thumbs up and slide out of the room knowing exactly what was set to happen. His mother nodded her head reassuring him that they were set to go. With one last hug to his sister Tom whispered to her, "I hope you don't hate my gift."
Ignoring her puzzled expression, he walked out of the room, past the huddle of bridesmaids, and straight down the aisle where a stool and microphone had been set up off to the side. Thomas smirked at his soon to be brother-in-law and pulled his guitar up into his lap. Tapping the microphone to tests it's volume he began to speak.
"Umm… Hi everybody," he lamely spoke up. He could feel the rumble of butterflies fluttering in his stomach. Taking a deep breath he continued. "About a week ago, I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what I could give my sister Caroline for her wedding. All I knew was that it had to be something great, something that she and Noah would always remember. The only thing that could come to mind was this. So, if you can hear me out here, Caroline, this is for you and Noah. Please don't kill me later for changing your plans."
A few chuckles were emitted from the audience at the last statement.
Taking one last look at Tsuskushi, his fingers moved to their own accord beginning the first strains of music he had written. His voice trembled releasing the first few words of his original song.
What day is it
and in what month
this clock never seemed so alive
I can't keep up
and I can't back downI've been losing so much time
Jacob appeared at the forefront of the procession walking their mother down the aisle followed by Noah's parents. While his mother and brother were not very shocked to see him up there, Noah's parents seemed a bit unnerved by the change in plans. Like everyone else, he had the rapt attention of every single person in attendance.Cause it's you and me and all of the people
With nothing to do
Nothing to lose
And it's you and me and all of the people
And I don't know why
I can't keep my eyes off of you
One by one the rest of the bridal party followed the procession. The maid of honor mouthed their joy congratulating him on his original gift. Hungry eyes roved over him with suggestive winks followed when the other two bridesmaids came out.
All of the things that I want to say
Just aren't coming out right
I'm tripping inwards
You got my head spinning
I don't know where to go from here
The moment finally came when he watched with expectant eyes to see his sister's reaction to his gift. The validation that it had all been worth it, to put himself out on a line like this was worth it. Her smile stretched across her entire face, and she seemed to possess an even greater glow than when he had seen her moments before.Cause it's you and me and all of the people
with nothing to do
Nothing to prove
And it's you and me and all of the people
And I don't know why
I can't keep my eyes off of you
He lifted his head and looked out into the crowd gauging their reaction. He missed this feeling of performing. For once in a very long time, he was beginning to remember the thrill of being the star in front of a crowd of people. With every lingering note, the spectators were drawn into a trance hearing only the music and nothing else. Like the pied piper he was drawing them into his world. The ceremony hadn't even fully started yet, but not a single woman could be found with a dry eye. Even a few of the men had become choked up.
There's something about you now
I can't quite figure out
Everything she does is beautiful
Everything she does is right
You and me and all of the people
with nothing to do
Nothing to lose
And it's you and me and all of the people
And I don't know why
I can't keep my eyes off of you
Pride. He could see it in his mother's eyes. His brother was probably silently patting himself on the back for pulling this surprise off. For the briefest second he saw something in his father's face. When their stormy blue eyes met, euphoric accomplishment met with troubled confusion. Not even a grand gesture like this would please the man, he surmised.
You and me and all of the people
with nothing to do
Nothing to prove
And it's you and me and all of the people
And I don't know why
I can't keep my eyes off of you
What day is it
And in what month
This clock never seemed so alive
His fingers ceased to move leaving behind the deafening silence in its wake. Caroline took the opportunity to step away from their father and wrap her arms around him whispering a choked thanks to him. Trembling, she took the hands of her groom and nodded for the priest to go on with the ceremony.
The string of compliments didn't cease from the second the reception began. It appeared that his gift had made some impact on everyone and the town pariah was back in the community's good graces. Questions as to when he would be coming out with an album were passed around while a few women fawned over how sweet he was to do something like that for his sister. Popularity was fickle like that.
All the while, Caroline had not stopped gushing over his song. Although everyone agreed that the ceremony was beautiful; however, he had managed to make himself on of the main topics of attention. Rumors spread like wildfire about his newfound success and comeback to the music business. A few even mentioned some far out lie about him becoming a star overseas and his upcoming return for a stab at the market in the States. For now, they didn't need to know that he had not publicly sung one of his own songs since he left home.
That was a story for another day.
"No one could have ever done anything sweeter than what you did for your sister today."
Thomas looked up from his dinner plate to meet the eyes of his mother. "It wasn't much," he shrugged. His fork scraped against the china pushing the remainder of his chicken around.
"There's no use in moping all by yourself over here. Your brother seems to have kidnapped Tsukushi, and your father whisked Kaya away. He keeps telling her to call him Grumpa Eddie. Gets a real kick out it, too."
He looked up to see all the couples swaying on the dance floor to the band playing on stage. Thomas vaguely recognized them as a few guys from high school that used to play for house parties. Apparently they kept the dream alive by playing a few gigs on the weekend to escape the doldrums of mediocrity. By all standards, he should have felt sorry for the poor bastards, but with the way they were having the time of their lives onstage, he had to admit they were happy bastards. They were a bunch of average talented guys who did it out of the love and respect for the music. Briefly he wondered if he still had that same amount of passion they possessed.
"So what do you think of the band?" Liz asked. She carefully sipped her chilled glass of champagne. "They came highly recommended."
"They're great. Still the same old bunch of guys I remember from high school."
"Not quite, dear. People do change a little bit over the years." She lifted a manicured finger pointing to each band member. "Joey over there is an accountant. He does our taxes every year. Quite good if you ask me since we always get a refund. Got himself a little girl and another on the way. Now Michael is a different story. He went through a rather difficult divorce last year. He's a sales manager at Penny's. John is still single, but he says he's thinking about asking his girlfriend to marry him soon. She's over there tending the bar. The two met a few years back at another wedding they were both working. Finally, there's Scott the youngest of the bunch. He's working on trying to become a producer. He's got himself a nice little set up downtown helping the local high school kids record their demos. Does that on the side while running Richter's. You remember Richter's? It was the record store you practically lived in when you were younger. The boys get together every week to practice no matter what. Says it's their thing to unwind in their down time."
"Aren't you the little busy body knowing everybody's business?"
"I'm a mother. It comes with the territory," she defensively argued. She lightly slapped his cheek. "Whoever said having kids was a joy was really wrong. So, tell me what's wrong."
"It's nothing, Mom."
"Like I'll believe that."
Thomas picked up his fork and jabbed at the slice of cake plopped down in front of him by one of the many waiters rushing by. A smear of buttercream frosting was beginning to form on the plate from his smashing. "It's stupid really. I hate it when my mind wanders because they tend to stray to bad places. All I hear in my head is the one question I don't want to answer."
"What are you doing with your life?"
Thomas and his mother lifted their heads to meet the stern face of his father. Liz could not hide her grimace and disbelief at her husband's lack of better sense to bring up such a sensitive topic during a party. "Eddie," she started.
"No, Mom." Thomas returned the same challenging look to his father. "This is a battle I can fight on my own."
She sighed to herself wondering when two out of the three men in her life would find some way to all get along. From the look of things, that would not be happening any time soon. She stood up adjusting her dress. A wary smiled crossed her thin lips. Passing her husband, she leaned in to him gripping his arm. "Don't start something you might regret," she whispered.
"So the big question is what am I going to do with my life now, huh? No more Susumu to bail me out of trouble, so it's back to you, Dad."
"I want you to come home, Tom. It doesn't have to be like this. You can come home. Think about maybe going back to school. It's not too late to finish up your degree. You have so many options. Come home."
Thomas shook is head. Looking around the open yard filled with brightly colored lights illuminating the pitch darkness, he felt not s ingle shred of attachment or reason for him to stay. His brother was becoming a man on his won. His parents were beginning to rediscover themselves as two individuals with all their children leaving home. His sister was on that path to start her own family. What was there to return to? The chance to fade into the oblivion of mediocrity. At that moment, he made a choice, one that he knew he could never take back for his father taught him one very important lesson- a man never goes back on his word.
In that one moment of clarity, Thomas made a choice free of any influence. There was too much left for him to go back to. Witnessing the changes going on with his family, he realized that he was still capable of making a life for himself, one that wasn't confounded with shit.
"Dad, you might believe in me anymore after all I've said and done, but trust me on this. I have this gut feeling that's telling me to stay with her." He pointedly looked in the direction of Tsukushi and her daughter. "This is me being a man and stepping up to do what is right. Susumu saw something in me, and I'm not about to fuck up whatever he was trying to accomplish. I know you probably already asked her to come here and she probably told you no. I'm a hell of a lot tougher than I used to be because I have a purpose now. I know I will make mistakes along the way, but I am willing to take that risk. I'm going to follow through this time. Just give me some time and you'll see."
No words came to him. The honest truth of it all was that Eddie was astounded by his son's show of maturity. Perhaps his gallivanting in Japan had taught him a lesson or two he himself could never teach him.
The tapping of a hand on a microphone interrupted their conversation. They both turned up to the stage to where the emcee was announcing the father daughter dance. A path cleared in front of them exposing a narrow space for his father to meet Caroline on the dance floor. She expectantly looked at her father with her outstretched hand.
Caroline reached for the mic. Clearing her throat she began to speak, "Hello everyone. I didn't think my brother could ever top his beautiful song he wrote for me, but this may come pretty close. He sent me a tape of this song a few months back and I fell in love with it. When he asked me what I wanted for a wedding gift, I only asked for one thing. I wanted him to play this song, which he has agreed to do for me. Tom, if you would please?"
That was his cue. Stepping past his father he made a line straight for the stage. His stomach fluttered with nervousness, a bad habit he had never been able to shake off no matter how long he performed live. The fluttering clamed a bit when a small hand touched his arm.
"Thanks for accompanying me," he thanked Tsukushi.
"It's no problem." She offered a small smile and followed him onto the stage where a single guitar and piano were set up. Tsukushi slid into her bench focusing on the notes she had memorized a few days beforehand. She didn't have much time to practice. Inwardly she secretly wished she would not screw this up.
Thomas cocked his head back and smiled. "You'll do fine." Taking a deep breath, he turned back to the crowd and began strumming his guitar.
I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
She's just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I've done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hands
Now I'm starting to see
Maybe it's got nothing to do with me
Fathers be good to your daughtersDaughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too
To give someone your full and utter trust was easier said than done. He had always believed in Tom. He might now have openly shown it all the time, but he was proud. Eddie had made a lot of mistakes as any human was prone to do, but when you find yourself backed into a corner with little control over a situation, it wasn't easy to let your child fall. Maybe he could have handled things better when Tom ran off and married that Rachel. Anger and horror were two pretty big emotions to overcome. It was a punch to the face to see a child you put so much effort and time into to teach him to do the right thing throw his life away on a momentary lapse of judgment. It was even harder to turn your back when he needed you the most.
"Daddy," Caroline whispered. She pulled herself back enough to look into her father's face. She knew that he was having a hard time having Tom back in town. He told her himself a few weeks back when they confirmed his arrival flight.
"Something wrong, Carrie?"
Ooh, you see that skin?
It's the same she's been standing in
Since the day she saw him walking away
Now she's left
cleaning up the mess he made
So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you doGirls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too
"He's going to do something great one day, something greater than we ever imagined. I know you love all of us just the same, but it was never the same when it came to Tom. There was just a little bit more pressure on him to be the best. You were always scared that you would hurt me being your little girl. Jake was the baby in the family. Tommy was always something else. He's a lot tougher than most people."
"It's my own fault for making him that way," he murmured.
Boys, you can break
You find out how much they can take
Boys will be strong
And boys soldier on
But boys would be gone without warmth from
A woman's good, good heart
On behalf of every man
looking out for every girlYou are the god and the weight of her world
So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters, too
"All he's ever wanted was for you to be proud of him."
"I am," he argued.
"Then tell him that."
They broke apart to the thunderous applause of the guests. Lost in their own conversation, they hardly realized that the song had ended. Turning to her brother Caroline smiled broadly. "All he ever wanted was for you to tell him that you're proud of him. That's all he needs."
The last of the slightly inebriated guests stumbled their way to the waiting cabs specially called in to deliver them to their warm safe beds. More than a few would bashfully return the next day hoping no one saw whatever humiliating act they had committed in their state to retrieve their cars that is if they could get over their massive hangovers first. The rest of the family had done their best to clean up the massacre in their yard as best as possible before throwing in the towel and calling it a night. Every last bit of champagne had been drunk and the last of the cake eaten. One by one the lights flickered off, but a few remained giving off a faint illumination over the massacred yard.
Thomas yawned into his hand and rubbed his face furiously. He shivered in the cold night air and fell backwards onto the porch. His eyes roamed the sky mindlessly counting off the number of stars. He forgot how clear it was around those parts. You felt like you could almost reach your hand up into the sky and scoop a handful of stars to store into your pocket.
Insomnia has become part of his pattern of existence. It scared the shit out of him at first when he seemed get by with three to four hours of sleep a night only to crash once a month into a narcoleptic coma that could last an entire day. A part of him nagged at the fact that it wasn't healthy and he should see a doctor, but so far nothing life threatening had occurred, so he let things be.
The worst part of it all was in the lone hours of the night when most of the world was dead and he didn't feel like dragging himself to another club just to ease the loneliness, he would find himself lying in bed staring at the ceiling and pondering over things. Being back in his small hometown, there wasn't any hustle and bustle of the city to distract him from these thoughts. Also, he didn't want to raise any concerns when his mother noticed his late hours. The thought of trying to write music was snuffed out due to a single memory that replayed over an over again.
It had to have been some freak incident that it even happened at all. A part of him swore that it might have been a dream, but god, the look on her face was too much to be an imagination. Snippets of heavy breathing, sweat trickling down the hollows of her throat sliding in between the valley of her breasts, the pressure of legs wrapping around his waist pulling him deeper into oblivion ran through his mind. Desperate entreaties fell from her lips as prayers to the gods to release her the raging torrent of sensations goaded him further bringing her voice to the point of screams. The entire time she kept her eyes open as if challenging him to do his worst or even better, his best. He remembered his own turmoil the strange combination to hold onto his sanity for just a bit longer with the desire push past the barrier of the precipice.
No one, not even Rachel had been able to evoke such desire from him. Of course, his experience was not just limited to his ex-wife. He had a few girlfriends before and after her. Never had a single one of them made him want something with such reckless abandon.
His hands shook as he listened to the dial tone taunting him with every ringing second. He wished he had the guts earlier to make the call, but he was a coward. Listening to loud thumping of his heart about to leap out of his chest, he breathed a sigh of relief when the voice mail picked up. The entire speech he had prepared in his head flew out of his mind leaving him a mute mess.
"Leave a message and I'll get back to you."
His heart jolted at the trilling beep prompting him to leave a message. "Hey… it's me. I know I should have called you earlier, but the with the way we left things." Thomas clenched the phone tighter in his hand trying to come up with the words that would make it all better. "Damn it, I don't know what to say. I'm just sorry. I never wanted things to turn out like this. We both deserve better after all this time. I promise I'll make it up to you when I get back, though. We'll figure this out together… Bye."
Letting out the breath he was holding, he shoved the phone back into his pocket cursing himself out for being such a wuss. He knew the consequences of his actions, but didn't pay any mind to it. Too caught up in the moment and the sensations, he had let himself violate every principle he had established for himself.
He wasn't supposed to get so attached to her. He promised both of them that he wouldn't ever cross that line. But he did, and now he was left wondering if there was something over the line worth fighting for. Did she want what he wanted?
"Couldn't sleep, huh?"
The voice startled him from his self-deprecation. Thomas turned around to find his father sitting on the rocking chair on the porch holding a mug in his hand.
"Not really. With the time difference and everything, my body has been out of whack."
"Funny considering how you were always the one who adjusted the fastest when we moved." He took a long dragging sip from his mug. "You were always the first to jump on the bandwagon when we moved. Said you liked the thrill of the adventure."
"Mom always said half the fun was the fear. Waltzing into a foreign country not speaking a single word of the language sure did open up a lot of doors for me. Grandma would always pull theatrics about how this family lived like gypsies."
"Yeah, well your grandparents hated that I took away their baby. Marrying the youngest in the family sure did leave a sour taste in their mouth." Eddie lightly stomped his foot on the porch ending the rocking motion of his chair. "Your Aunt Claire never got over the fact that they left the house to your mother. You can say I have too many strikes against me when it comes to that family. I never understood how they were so close. My family was nothing like them, although I did have a few Aunt Claires in mine. But my mother was the exception. She was a fine woman."
The mention of his other grandmother piqued his interest. It was a general rule in their family to never ask questions about that side. There always seemed to be blanks when they tried to figure out his father and why he was the way he was. Many times he and Caroline would speculate about their other grandparents. Jacob was way to young to even have the capacity to remember that trip.
All he and Caroline shared was a faint memory that almost seemed as if they imagined it all. He could remember the exhausting heat of the dry desert air as they all packed into their station wagon driving across the huge expanse of boundless highway. Sweat trickled down his neck as the sweltering sun beat streamed through his window. The air in the car was tense, and he recalled the way his mother slid closer to their father to rest her head on his shoulder whispering something that was obviously meant to be for adult conversation only. Years later he would ask Caroline if she remembered the smell of stale cigarettes or the way they ran like wild animals in the yard as their parents went inside with the nice old woman who offered them taffy that looked like it was a prehistoric artifact. What he remembered most was the bullish looking man who frightened the shit out of him lugging around the giant oxygen tank and mask permanently fixed on his face. The wheezing, hacking coughs that begged for someone to come and take him out of his misery rung in his ears as whenever he relived the nightmare of meeting that man. The entire time the man spoke to his parents, they remained passive with their faces set into think lines.
On the drive back to the hotel later that night his father took him to the side and revealed that he had met his grandfather. Thomas was only about eight at that time, but his father told him the depressing truth. The man, his father was dying and they were there to pay their last respects. Then he promised Thomas he would never let himself become that man.
Thomas eventually figured out what he meant. His grandfather died a few months after that. His parents left the kids in Ashland to take care of the kids. His Aunt Claire had dropped by to visit. It was by dumb luck that he walked by the parlor to hear her lamenting about how she wished his mother had never married beneath her. Being at an age not knowing where to let out his anger, he did it in the way most children would. He stomped out into the yard and punched Dave right in the face.
It was a cheap shot and he got it back ten times worse, but it was the best he cold do to defend his family's honor. His grandmother practically had a coronary at the sight of so much blood. He was lucky that his grandfather came in time to pull Dave off of him before he smashed in his face.
When it came time for his grandfather to sit him down in the kitchen to put some ice on his split lip and black eye, he was on pins and needles to get the verdict. It was odd how he didn't raise his voice to scold him for fighting. All he did was get down on one knee, pressed the ice a little harder to his face, and patted him on the knee.
"You're Aunt Claire shouldn't have said those things, but they are the truth, son."
"I didn't know what to do, Grandpa. She said all those awful things about Mom and Dad."
The old man pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed his face with the palm of his hand. "Believe me, your father is a good man. Coming from where he did, he came out better than most. You shouldn't be ashamed of where he came from. Your Aunt Claire should be ashamed for ever thinking your father would ever beat the shit out of you like his daddy did to him." With that said, he plucked the ice away from his face swabbed the cut with antiseptic and smacked a bandage on. "Now I don't want you getting into anymore fights, okay?"
His grandfather backed up the story that boys will be boys when his Aunt went after his mother like a bat out of hell screeching about what her son had done. Back in those days, whatever grandpa decided was the law. So, Aunt Claire fumed for weeks that no one sided with her in that he should have been punished for attacking Dave.
It would be years later when he would really understand what white trailer trash meant. At the same time, he would begin to understand how a broken child could grow up to be a broken father. Now as a man, he understood why his father was the way he was. The discomfort of affection was ingrained in him since the only touch he ever felt was a clenched fist or a belt. His father never once openly spoke about it, but it didn't take a genius to figure it out. His mother put it best when she said, 'sometimes people can only let themselves love from a distance, but you take what they offer.'
"I've been thinking about my father a lot lately," Eddie mumbled. Not a single trace of sentimentality lingered in his voice. "I don't understand how I forgot that feeling, that single defining moment that a son realizes what an asshole his father is. I was seventeen when I ran away from home. All I had was a duffel bag stuffed with a few pairs of clothes and the money from the cookie jar where my mother hid the weekly grocery money. It's funny," he snorted. "My mother had to hide money for food to keep my father from using it for more beer and smokes. By the time I was ten, the grocer in town knew to give me a carton of Marlboros and a six pack of Bud or face the guilt that I would come in the next day sporting a nasty shiner."
"Dad…" Thomas interrupted to stop him from saying any more. However, his father continued and decided to ignore his protest.
"No, you need to know this." He rolled up the sleeve of his bathrobe and rubbed at the marred skin on the inner part of his forearm. "I think when he noticed my father's new game of using me as an ash tray, he knew better than to question who I was buying for."
Multiple circular scars in a strange polka dot pattern marred Eddie's skin. Thomas used to question him about where the scars came from. His father lied that they were from boot camp when he had to crawl across dirt, rocks, and other various objects for field training.
"Your mother always bugged me about talking about it more, but I never wanted her to know how bad it really was. I used to lie in my bed and wish to god that I wouldn't wake up the next morning. So, one day I decided I was going to run. Being the coward I was, I left my mother to compensate the loss of a punching bag. She was a sweet woman, weak as hell to stay with the bastard, but a good woman. I hated him for every single day until he died, which is why I'm going to swallow my pride, son. I'm sorry about the things I said. I don't want you to leave here again hating me as much as I hated my father."
The sickening thud of bile at the bottom of his throat choked up his words. He was disgusted at himself for letting his relationship with his father lead up to this point. Was he really as angry as the day he ran off? The answer was no. It had been no for a very ling time. Somewhere along the way he stopped being angry and just didn't care. The entire idea of snubbing him had become part of a stubborn principled to be right about an argument he no longer cared about. Susumu had told him to let go of it, but he refused to listen.
"I wanted so much for you, but I just didn't see past that. I never saw what you needed. For what it's worth I am proud of you."
It was stupid really. He was jealous of the rapport Susumu and his father had. The two seemed to get along so easily in a way that Thomas struggled to find. When Susumu had shut out his father, he believed that he was equally justified to do the same when his father turned his back on him. The only difference was that his own father had lied when he said he didn't care. He did everything in his power to secretly ensure no harm came to him.
"Thanks, Dad. I'm sorry I let my pride stand in the way."
By the wry smile he received in return, Thomas accepted that was the most emotion the two of them would transpire between them. He found himself at that awkward phase in life where he knew he couldn't scrape his knee and go running to Daddy for a hug to make it better.
"I know Mom and you want me to come home, but I still have some business to finish up with back in Japan. I made a promise to myself I would support Tsukushi the same way Susumu would for as long as she needs me. Also, there is someone I need to work things out with back there."
Eddie shook his head barely hiding his mirth. "I bet it's another girl."
"It's not just some girl. It's the girl." He put a hand up to stop his father from making his next comment. "Trust me this time. Once bitten, twice shy. You would like her. She doesn't want anything to do with me."
"She already sounds like my kind of girl. So, how about you take a seat and tell me about he?." He patted the empty chair beside him.
Thomas looked at his father with a completely different persepective. It was laughable that two stubborn men like them could hold a grudge for years, but fall back into friendly terms so easily when they made up. It was one of those inexplicable phenomena. Why bother holding onto the past grudges when there was a future to look forward to? If he learned anything from Susumu's death, it was to live every day like your last by letting the past go.