|Meet the Parents
Author: dedanaan PM
Tsukushi came back from New York with Rui, leaving Tsukasa behind....Four months later, an unexpected day follows. This upload comprises chapters 1 - 5 of my fic.Rated: Fiction K - English - Romance - Words: 12,065 - Reviews: 67 - Favs: 34 - Follows: 30 - Published: 10-11-01 - id: 432654
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I'm standing looking down at the frosty gardens of Eitoku from my post at the top of the Emergency Exit staircase. My breath hangs in the air and I can feel my nose getting cold but I'd rather be out here in the cold than in there with all the fakes. I've got my coat, scarf and mittens on anyway so I'm good for a while still.
Has it really been four months since I've seen Doumiyouji?
It seems like forever, at least that's how it feels with him not being at Eitoku everyday. Mimasaka and Nishikado are still here, and so are Kazuya, Makiko and Sakurako. And Hanazawa Rui, who has become my rock over the past few months as he helps me pick up the pieces of my heart, is always there. Even so, with all my friends around me, I still feel empty.
It's funny the things you miss when they're no longer there. I miss him teasing me and I used to hate it so much. It used to piss me off royally when he called me "poor girl" and now what I wouldn't give to hear him growl it just once more. But he's not here—he made his choice in New York, leaving me feeling like a fool for going after him. It still hurts when I think of how he rejected me but where there once was a sharp pain there's only a dull ache.
I can't get over the difference in Hanazawa Rui these past few months. He laughs more, is more outgoing and Nishikado was telling me the other day that he's been sleeping less. Is that because of me? Is he finally over Shizuka-san? The other question, though, is how do I feel about him? The jury is still out on that one, and might be for a while. I feel serene and cared for when I'm with Hanazawa Rui, but I don't know if I'm in love with him, not like how I felt in the beginning, before I knew how I felt about Doumiyouji. I care deeply for Hanazawa Rui but can't figure out to what extent with the shadow of Doumiyouji still looming large over us. So for now I'll coast along with my heart in neutral, it's safer that way.
"Hey, Makino." Hanazawa Rui greets as he walks up the stairs and plops down in his usual spot.
"Hey, the stairs are cold, you shouldn't sit on them or you'll get hemorrhoids." Not exactly the reply either of us were expecting, but it just popped out. He arches an eyebrow and begins to laugh as he gets to his feet again.
"The things you come off with, Makino…..anyway, I was wondering if you have to work after school?" He comes over to stand next to me, leans against the railing, and looks out at the view.
"Huh? Not today, why?" I answer, wondering if he's looking at something in particular.
"Want to go downtown with me?"
"Want to go now?"
"You're kidding right? We can't skip school."
"Come on, let's go….it'll be fun." He grabs my mittened hand in his and pulls me down the stairs after him.
"Oi, Hanazawa Rui, cut it out!" I chastise him, but it's only effect is to make him break into a run and I've got to concentrate on matching his moves so I don't end up tripping and falling flat on my face.
When he finally stops running and lets go of my hand we are well outside the school gates. I lean up against the wall of an office building and catch my breath, wondering what has made Hanazawa Rui reckless today. This isn't like him.
"Okay, so now we've skipped school what do you want to do?" I ask, still breathless from our flight to freedom.
"Let's have tea. We can figure out what we want to do and warm up at the same time." He leads me to a traditional tea house and we go in. The large foyer's dark wood floor is polished to a deep shine. There is a beautiful koi pond in the corner, the bubbling of its soft fountain providing a relaxing curtain of sound. From the décor I can tell it's going to be expensive and tug on his sleeve to get his attention.
"I don't think I've got enough money on me to pay for tea here…" I hiss in his ear, uncomfortable.
"It was my idea to have tea, so I'll pay. It's my treat."
"Are you sure?" The look I get in response to the question tells me to drop it and accept the gesture graciously. "Thank you, Hanazawa Rui."
The hostess, wearing traditional wa-fuku, comes out and greets us, bowing low. Hanazawa Rui explains what he wants and we are led to a small room overlooking a well-manicured courtyard garden.
We sit down on the tatami mats and watch the hostess busy herself preparing our tea. I find myself remembering when Tsubaki-san helped me train for the Teen of Japan competition. I learned the basics of the tea ceremony but I've never experienced it on this level before. I stare at the hostess, admiring her beautiful kimono and her poise. My glance flicks towards Hanazawa Rui and I find he is staring at me, almost studying me.
"What?" I ask, curious about what he finds so interesting.
"What are you thinking about?" he asks.
That's a weird question but he is Hanazawa Rui after all. "Not much actually…..I was just remembering when I was in the Teen of Japan competition and how they taught me the Tea Ceremony."
"Ah…is that all? You seemed wistful."
"I did? Well I guess in a way I am…" I can feel my cheeks getting hot as I continue, "I was admiring her beautiful kimono. I've never had one because our family can't afford to buy luxuries like that." I'm embarrassed to admit it.
"You didn't have one when you were little for Shichi-Go-San?" He leans forward and drapes his arm over his knee, intent on my answer.
"My parents had to borrow one and I was warned so fiercely about damaging it in the least way that I was afraid to move. It was supposed to be an exciting day, but I didn't enjoy it."
"Do you think it would have been different if it were yours?"
"I would have been proud because it was my own. I would have been careful because I was protecting a beautiful thing that belonged to me. With the borrowed wa-fuku I was so afraid of wrecking something that belonged to someone else that I couldn't enjoy myself."
"That's too bad, it's supposed to be a special day."
"Yeah." What a depressing memory. I let out a soft sigh and let my gaze wander to the tokonoma alcove, registering the arrangement there in the back of my mind.
Our tea is ready and the hostess excuses herself, leaving us alone to enjoy it.
"These cups are beautiful," Hanazawa Rui comments, "and so is the view." I smile—he really is into the ritual. I add an observation of my own to the mix.
"The arrangement in the Tokonoma alcove is expertly done." He smiles at the way I phrase it. I can't help it, the whole thing makes me self-conscious.
"And the garden outside is divine." He adds, beginning to laugh gently.
"And this whisk is to die for!" I pick up the tea whisk and brandish it at him. He cracks up even more than before and his laughter is contagious. In a matter of seconds the hostess is peering into the room to see what's going on.
"Ah, Hanazawa Rui, I think we'd better just drink our tea and leave before we outstay our welcome." You aren't supposed to make fun of the tea ceremony. He nods and sobers up and we finish in silent contemplation, the hostess hovering nervously in the doorway, half afraid we're going to do something else.
We thank her on our way out. I think she's glad to see us go.
"So where to next?" I ask as we stand on the street looking left and right.
"Let's just go where the wind leads us." He's smiling again. I lick my finger and hold it up to test the wind direction.
"It's going east," I tell him as I slip my hand back into its mitten, "shall we follow?" He nods and we start walking down the street, chasing the wind.
"Let's go in here." He's stopped and is looking in the window of a ritzy salon. It's the kind of place that's shiny from all the chrome and polished marble.
"What for?" I ask, puzzled.
"I need a trim." He answers. "Come on."
Once inside, he requests the services of a celebrity hairstylist. When they realize he's Hanazawa Rui, the staff almost falls over each other in their rush to fulfil his request. In just a few minutes a flustered receptionist is ushering us through the doorway to a private room.
"Please wait here a moment." She asks as she gestures to a loveseat. We sit down to wait in silence as the door closes after us.
I'm having a surreal day today.I say to myself as I look around the room. Hanazawa Rui begins singing softly to himself as we wait. It sounds like some classical piece he plays on his violin. Then the door opens and a tall, thin man with short, spiky hair steps into the room.
"Ah, Hanazawa-san, it's been a while. So, to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I was in the neighbourhood and decided it was time for a trim." He suddenly remembers I'm here and adds, "Fukuwara-san, I'd like you to meet Makino Tsukushi." The stylist turns and bows towards me. What is it with the F4? This is yet another stylist I've read about in the teen mags. Even the most mundane details of their lives are the stuff of ordinary people's dreams.
"And what would you like done today?" he asks, noting my hair hastily pulled back into ponytails to keep it from being too unruly as it grows out. Without asking my permission, he steps forward and pulls the elastics out of my hair, causing it to tumble around my shoulders. "Oh, yes," Fukuwara continues, inspecting my hair with a critical eye, "definitely some shaping needed. And what about a bit of layering?"
"What do you say, Makino? Wanna join me for a haircut?" I can't believe what I'm hearing coming out of Hanazawa Rui's mouth. I turn to face Fukuwara-san.
"Could you please excuse us for a moment?" I request. The stylist nods.
"I'm just going to pick up some things and I'll be right back." Once the door closes behind him, I round on Hanazawa Rui.
"Are you nuts?" I ask, wondering if he's lost it. "If I couldn't even afford a cup of tea, what makes you think I have the money for a cut and style by Fukuwara, exclusive stylist to the rich and famous?"
"Relax, Makino. Since it was my idea again, I'll take care of it. And besides, these celebrity stylists can be temperamental—if you refuse his services he'll be insulted." I know I have a blank look on my face as his argument sinks in.
"Are you sure?" We're talking quite a few thousand yen here. He nods.
"Okay then, that settles it." He says, as there's a sharp rap at the door and Fukuwara returns with the tools of his trade.
I can't believe what I see when I catch my reflection in the store windows. Is this me? Not only did I get a once in a lifetime haircut, I also got waxed and manicured to boot. It's hard to equate the girl looking back at me with the girl who went into the salon. Hanazawa Rui got his hair cut first and while I was waiting two beauticians came in and went to work on me.
My eyebrows still sting, but it was worth it when I saw the results. I look at my nails, shining and perfectly French manicured, then strain to catch a glimpse of my reflection in the next window along. I still can't believe my hair--I hope to God I can make it look as great as Fukuwara has. I shake my head, marveling in how light and soft my hair feels as it gently brushes my face. It barely touches my collarbones, but he has cut in several longish layers and feathered the hair that frames my face. And to top it off, he gave me red-gold highlights. It's a really bold and pretty style and I don't look so much like my mother any more. Between the hair and the new, nearly mocking arch to my brow, I almost don't recognize myself.
Hanazawa Rui is just walking along next to me with his hands in his pocket. As we left the salon he told me how much he liked my new look but he's been pretty quiet since. He's humming again and I don't think it's the same tune from before because I don't recognize it. He's got me curious.
"What's that melody you're humming, Hanazawa Rui? It's sounds pretty." He stops and looks over at me.
"Nothing much, just a little something I'm composing."
"Composing?!?!? Really??? You can write music too?" I know my jaw is on the ground. Why am I continually surprised by what the F4 know or have? "Have you written much?"
"Not in a long time. I guess I didn't realize I had a muse to inspire me until recently." He gives me the most gorgeous smile and it sets butterflies to wing in my stomach, even as it triggers memories of my time with him in New York and everything that was said and done. We haven't brought it up much since we got back to Japan as there's not much to be said that he didn't say then, and without Doumiyouji here I guess he hasn't felt the need to repeat himself or do anything drastic.
I feel myself blushing to the roots of my hair and I break eye contact.
"You know what, Makino?" He changes the subject.
"Do you know what day it is?"
"No, I mean the date."
"Ummm…. November 14th…..no, 15th." Suddenly I was struck by the coincidence of sharing my childhood memories of Shichi-Go-San on the very same day years later -- never mind in a traditional setting. Weird.
"I've got an idea, but you've got to promise you'll go along with it first." He's looking for some agreement from me.
"Tell me what it is first." I demand.
"No. You've got to promise." His tone is harsh, he's serious. I think about it for a second and realize he's Hanazawa Rui -- he's never done anything to put me in danger before so he's probably not about to start now.
"Okay, I promise to go along with it." My voice sounds lighter than I feel.
"Good!" He takes me by the hand again and sprints to catch the lights so we can cross to the other side of the street.
"Oi! Where are we going?" I call, as he drags me across the intersection. He looks over his shoulder at me.
"You'll see. It's about a block away." Like that helps, Hanazawa Rui.
"Well, aren't you going to tell me anything?" I'm dying to know what I've promised to go along with.
"Save your breath, we're almost there. Then you'll see." He apparently isn't to be argued with. He finally stops outside a boutique and ushers me across the threshold in front of him. "Here we go."
"What's in here?" I ask breathlessly, looking around at the interior. It looks like a really nice sitting room. Is this a store? As the door closes behind us a small bell tinkles somewhere in the back and a few seconds later a woman, dressed in a beautiful kimono, comes out to greet us.
"How can I be of service, Hanazawa-san?" she asks. Does everyone in this town know the F4 by sight?
"We'd like to see your selection of wa-fuku, please." Hanazawa Rui tells her. "Whatever you have that you think would complement Makino-san's complexion." I can feel my eyes widening. What's he up to now?
"Certainly." The woman replies. She walks over to where I'm standing and bows politely, "Please take off your coat and scarf and follow me." I look over to Hanazawa Rui for help but he motions that I should follow her. I take off my mittens and remove my scarf, handing them to Hanazawa Rui before I unbutton my coat, a slight frown settling between my brows as I do so. I shrug out of the coat and hand it, in its turn, to Hanazawa Rui.
"What's going on, Hanazawa Rui?" I hiss softly, for his ears only.
"Sssshhh!!!! You promised to go along with it." His bends over close to my ear and answers just as softly. He cocks his head towards the doorway where the clerk is standing waiting for me. "Off you go -- I'll be waiting right here -- come back and model for me." His smile is cheeky now, like he's so sure of everything.
I guess I did promise."Okay, I won't say a word." I reply, even though I'm not sure about what I've inadvertently let myself in for, I walk over to the clerk and she motions for me to follow her through the door. What am I doing here?
"Come with me, Makino-san." We walk past a room where two girls are folding material. The woman escorting me stops and barks a quick series of orders at them. When they've scattered to do her bidding she gestures for me to continue following.
I'm ushered into a beautifully appointed room. "Please wait here for a moment." The clerk tells me. "I'll be back in a few minutes, can you please remove everything but your undergarments."
She's not serious, is she?"Everything?" I find myself asking in a tremulous voice.
"How else can we try the clothes on?" she replies.
"Ah, yes…." As the door closes behind her I start removing my uniform. I fold up the bow, shirt and pinafore neatly, placing them in a pile on a nearby stool as I wait for her return. I feel naked standing here in my bra, panties and socks. I'm aware of how self-conscious I am so I sit down in the plush, velvet covered chair set in the corner of the room and wait for the clerk to return, hands resting awkwardly on my knees as I try to make myself comfortable.
A few minutes later, after what seems like forever studying the walls around me, the door opens and the clerk returns, her two assistants following behind her laden down with piles of beautiful material. I sit up straight, trying not to fidget or show my discomfort.
"Makino-san, please stand up so we can try some of these things." I obey and step to the centre of the room, where they are standing. In the space of ten minutes I feel like I've been cinched into every single kimono on the island of Honshu. All the while the head clerk is making comments such as 'This won't do.' Or 'That's not quite right.' I wonder what is right. Soon they've collectively narrowed it down to three very different looks and I'm being manhandled into a white and silver number. I breathe in as far as I can as they wind an ice blue obi around my waist and fasten it in place. One of the assistants then takes my socks off and replaces them with tabi. I slip into the zoori she sets down in front of me and I'm finished.
"Now, let's go and get Hanazawa-san's opinion." I'm ushered back to the salon at the front of the boutique. When I walk out the door, I notice a flash of something I can't identify in Hanazawa Rui's eyes as he stands up. What was that look?
"Hey, Makino, you look really pretty." He tells me before turning to address the clerk. "It's beautiful, but the tones are cold. What about something to play up her eyes and colouring? Something that'll make her glow." Make me glow? What am I, a light?
"I have narrowed it down to three choices of which this is just the first. We'll have her come out wearing the other two as well and then you can make up your mind, Hanazawa-san, although, I'm sure you'll agree all three outfits are exquisite."
"I'm sure I will, but I want her to have the one that suits her best."
He does? Why? What's he have planned? Why did I agree to go along with his idea? I'm led back through to the dressing room where the two assistants still wait, tidying and sorting the discarded kimonos. In a matter of minutes I'm changed into a completely different Kimono. This one is black with small green leaves sewn into it. The obi is the same emerald green of the leaves, but it has small flowers embroidered on it with gold thread. The whole outfit is breathtaking. They lead me to the mirror where I gaze at my reflection in disbelief, before they take me to Hanazawa Rui again. Is that really me? He's standing looking out the window at the rush hour traffic when we return to the salon. He turns and looks impressed.
"Wow, now this is more like it. Turn around." I obey, wondering why I do. When I face him again he asks, "What do you say, Makino? Do you like this one better?"
"I do, actually." I admit. "The other one would be too easy to get dirty." I blush. My mother raised me to be too practical.
"You're right, that first one would be too much trouble. Okay, now let's see the last one."
Once again I'm being stripped and redressed. This time the kimono is red with violet and lilac accents. I now know what they want me to do before they ask, holding my hands up and moving automatically, this way and that, as they remove and replace pieces of clothing. In the fastest time yet I'm decked out in the last choice and we walk back to the salon to find out what Hanazawa Rui thinks of it.
"You look beautiful." are the words I'm greeted with. Does he really think so? I can feel my cheeks redden at the compliment. He's smiling at me and nodding towards the clerk and the two assistants who followed. "Don't you think this colour suits her?" he asks them. They nod.
"Yes, I do." The clerk answers. "It is very flattering because it brings out the blush on her cheeks and the shine in her eyes."
"What do you think of this one, Makino?"
"It's really pretty, Hanazawa Rui." I reply, glancing at my reflection caught in a mirror across the salon. It is really pretty. I feel like a doll.
"All right. That settles it then. We'll take the one she's wearing right now and there's no need to wrap it up as she's going to be wearing it." I am?
The clerk nods and goes back to the dressing room--presumably to retrieve my uniform and I'm left alone with Hanazawa Rui. "What's the big idea?" I ask.
"You promised…so don't ask any questions."
Hanazawa Rui is pulling me along after him again. I try not to pay attention to the stares coming our way as we wend our way through the crush of rush hour pedestrians. We must be a sight, the pair of us--he's dressed western style, toting a bag from a high-class boutique and I'm being trailed behind, wearing a kimono.
"Stop, Hanazawa Rui! What's the big rush? Baka!!! I can't run in these stupid sandals!!" I must be getting through to him because he slows down to a fast walk, even though he doesn't stop. "Where are we going now?" He glances back at me and gives me that infuriating smile again, but says nothing.
It's funny but I feel self-conscious and elated at the same time. This is my very own kimono. I keep stealing glances down at it as we walk and I delight in the sound of silk rustling with every step I take. I still can't believe what he did--he didn't even blink at the cost, even though I almost choked when I heard how much it was. He just smiled at me and paid for it, then accepted the bag they'd put my uniform in along with their thanks for his business.
I know I shouldn't, but I always feel bad on New Year's Day when I go to the shrines with Yuuki to pray. She always looks so lovely, dressed in wa-fuku, and even though I'm wearing my best clothes they always feel shabby next to a kimono. It will be so neat to be able to go wearing a kimono of my own this year. Does Hanazawa Rui know how much I appreciate this gift? I did thank him, but somehow the words aren't enough.
He suddenly stops at the curb and raises the hand holding the bag with my uniform to hail a taxi. One fast driver beats the others out and glides to a stop next to where we stand. Hanazawa Rui helps me get in as it's a little awkward with all this stuff on. When we're both in the taxi and the doors are closed, the driver asks us where we want to go. I look over at Hanazawa Rui--I haven't a clue.
"Meiji Jingu." Hanazawa Rui answers. The driver nods and we slip into traffic.
"The Meiji Shrine?" I ask Hanazawa Rui. "Why?"
"We've got to make some good Shichi-Go-San memories for you and where else to do it right than at the Meiji Shrine. And we've got to do it all before sundown, too, and it's already almost 4:00."
"…………" I'm speechless. This was his idea? This is why he bought me the kimono? I'm so touched he'd do this for me. Had he really heard the disappointment in my voice today when I related my childhood memories to him?
"Thank you, Hanazawa Rui." I say softly, when I finally find my voice. He reaches over and takes my hand in his, squeezing it gently.
"You're welcome, Makino Tsukushi." I smile when I hear him use both my names the way I use his. He doesn't release my hand like I expect him to though, and I end up spending the whole cab ride hoping he doesn't notice how fiercely I'm blushing as I try to figure out what's going on in his mind. His fingers, interlaced with my own, are cool but they soon warm up thanks to me. I'm very aware of his touch and how his hand feels on my leg through the silk of the Kimono. How much longer will it take to get there?
"Okay, we're here." The driver announces as we finally slow to a stop at the end of Omotesando, the Pilgrim's Main Path. When Hanazawa Rui finally lets go of my hand to pay the driver, I stare at it like I've been branded. It's harder to get out of the car dressed like this than it was to get in. It's a good job Hanazawa Rui stepped out first as he's there to catch me when I get tangled up in my skirts and almost fall on my face. When he pulls me up straight and sets me back on my feet, his eyes darken and it almost seems as if he's fighting the urge to kiss me. He's still holding on to my forearms.
My god!It's a little too close for comfort and I step away from him. In the past four months there hasn't been a moment like it--he's been considerate and supportive, but little more than that. It's almost like he's been waiting for me to decide when I'm ready to take our relationship further.
"Shall we go?" I ask, turning to look for the forest beyond the footbridge of Harajuku Station. The torii gate is through the trees and then it's about a ten minute walk to the shrine from there. I have to say something, anything, to fill the silence between us. "It's a fair walk and I'm not sure how fast I'll be able to go in these." I stick my feet out from beneath the skirts of the kimono to draw attention to the zoori I'm wearing.
"Well, let's get going then." He says, reaching out to take my hand again. This time he's not in a rush though, and we join the stream of families going to present their daughters and sons for Shichi-Go-San. The children look really cute in their miniature wa-fuku and some of the parents are also dressed traditionally so I don't feel as out of place here as I did when we came out of the boutique.
There's something more intimate about things now than there was earlier. Maybe it's because I'm aware he's doing all this for me. Maybe it's because we're walking like a couple out for a romantic stroll rather than me being dragged behind like a sack of rice. The thought makes me flush again--we must look like a couple to everyone else here. I'm shaken out of my inner monologue by the realization that Hanazawa Rui has picked up the pace. He's dragging me over to one of the little booths selling charms along the edges of the path.
"How much?" he asks the miko, as he leans over to see which kind of charm it is. He pays for it and turns to present it to me.
"Here we go, Tsukushi, this one's for happiness." He presses the charm into one of my hands with a smile, then leads me by the other hand to the next booth .
Did I hear right? Did he just call me Tsukushi?
It feels like we've just stepped over a threshold I didn't even realize existed. Or maybe I did and was trying not to think about it. "And this one's for health!" He hands me a second charm and we move on to the next booth over. A third charm is handed to me. "And this is for prosperity!" By the time we've reached the shrine, my cupped hands are filled with charms.
"Hanazawa Rui, where am I supposed to put all these?" I ask, half exasperated yet unable to wipe the smile off my face.
He turns me around, fishes out the little fukuro that matches the kimono from where it's hiding inside my sleeve and pulls it open. "Put them in here." He instructs me. I drop the charms into the little bag and he closes it, making sure everything is securely inside before letting it drop to dangle hidden in my sleeve again. "We should join the queue to visit the shrine." He steers me by the elbow into the line up.
As we wait our turn, I content myself with watching the children returning from their presentations. They're loud and happy, chattering excitedly with their families about their experiences today. I smile to myself, identifying the different personalities peeking through each perfectly costumed boy and girl as they walk past where we wait. That little guy there is a scruff, you can tell by the way he doesn't care that he looks sloppy. That little girl is a tomboy--she's chafing in her kimono, you can tell by the look on her face. And that cocky little spoiled brat walking by like he's so sure of himself is probably what Doumiyouji was like on Shichi-Go-San. I close my eyes at the thought.
Doumiyouji.There's that ache in my heart again. Why did I have to think of him? Why can't I go a day without thinking about him? Every day that he's been away has been a day when he hasn't kept the promise he made me. When will it stop hurting to think about it? I look over at Hanazawa Rui, standing patiently next to me, waiting for our turn at the shrine. I can't help but feel better, he's always there when I need a friend. He's humming that tune again, the one he said he was writing.
"I guess I didn't realize I had a muse to inspire me until recently."Those were his very words. I'd never seen the look he had in his eyes when he said it before. He told me I inspire him to make music? Wow! That's something I never expected to hear in my lifetime. It's flattering actually--well, if it's a nice song, that is--and it does sound like a nice song. I wonder if he'll ever play it for me. I'm suddenly pulled out of my reverie by the shrill voice of a young girl yelling.
"Nii-chan!!!! Come on, hurry up! If you don't hurry up, I'm going to phone papa and tell him you're ruining my special day!" I look around to see who is so upset and find myself staring at a familiar face, but I don't think he's seen me yet, he seems occupied. I tug on Hanazawa Rui's sleeve to draw his attention to where I'm looking.
"Look there, Hanazawa Rui, it's Mimasaka."
"So it is. Oi, Akira!" Mimasaka looks around when he hears his name and seems startled to see Hanazawa Rui calling him.
"Rui! What are you doing here?" He's starting to walk towards us, leaving his little sisters standing with hands on their hips and frowns on their faces.
"Nii-chan!!! What do you think you are doing?" It's the same voice as before and it belongs to the smaller of Mimasaka's sisters.
"Mimasaka-san, don't you think you'd better look after your sisters?" I can't help but blurt out the question, she looks so frustrated. He turns, suddenly focusing on my face.
"Ehhh….Makino? Is that you?" Between the kimono and the new hair, he seems a little startled by my appearance. "Wow!"
"AKIRAAAA!!!!" the little girl is exasperated.
"Yes, Minu." He sounds tired. "Come here for a second, girls." They obey, but the little one has a dubious look on her face. "Nemu, Minu, you remember meeting Hanazawa Rui and Makino Tsukushi before, right?" They nod. "By the way, what are you two doing here?"
"We're here for Shichi-Go-San, same as you." Hanazawa Rui answers.
"So where are the kids?" Mimasaka asks, puzzled.
"There are no kids….We're the kids." Hanazawa Rui answers, laughing.
"I don't know about you two." He tells us, but he's smiling. "Anyway, Minu here wants to visit the Inner Gardens," he cocks a thumb in the younger girl's direction, "even though nothing's in bloom at this time of year…If you want, we could meet after you visit the shrine and we can walk back together." The look in his eyes says he'd appreciate the company of someone his own age and the quiet desperation of his suggestion makes me smile.
"Sure, that sounds nice," I answer, "right, Hanazawa Rui?" He nods.
"We'll meet you back here, then." Akira tells us as he begins to shepherd his sisters in the direction of the Inner Gardens.
"What was your Shichi-Go-San like, Hanazawa Rui?" I ask, making conversation because it looks like we may be in line for a while yet.
"Like almost everyone else's, I suppose." He answers with a shrug. "I only have a few memories of it because I was just four and I was still pretty autistic at the time. We came here, of course, because that's what the families with money do."
I look over at him. He doesn't mention his childhood struggle with autism much--most of what I know about it has been related by the other members of the F4. They told me that before he met Shizuka, he was very quiet and reticent and kept to himself most of the time, apart from them even when he was with them. In a way, I suppose, it has shaped the man he is today. Even now, compared to his friends, he's pretty low key and serene--although there's something about me that tends to bring out the carefree comedian in him. I wonder what it is.
"Was it hard for you with the autism? When you were little, I mean." I hope he won't be angry because I've brought this up and am glad his expression doesn't change.
"That's a hard one to call. How I was when I was little was normal for me because I'd never known life to be any different. If it was hard on anyone, I think it was my parents. The son is supposed to grow up to take his father's place and I'm the heir to the Hanazawa Corporation. I think my mother dealt with it better than my father but then again, she and I always do seem to understand what the other is feeling." His gaze is distant, like he's touching on memories long buried and undisturbed.
"Hey, Hanazawa Rui!"
"Hmm? What, Tsukushi?" There, he said it again--he called me Tsukushi--the last time wasn't a slip.
"This is also a great opportunity to make good Shichi-Go-San memories for you, don't you think?"
"You know, you're right. Let's both make this a day to remember." I'm thrilled he agrees and startled at my reaction. You know, it's funny but I feel like my emotions are betraying me. Should it be so easy to be thrilled by him? I keep seeing Doumiyouji in the back of my mind, the way he looked when I turned my back on him at the airport, returning to Japan where I knew it wouldn't hurt as much. But, don't get me wrong, it still hurt like hell--at first--now it's been so long I don't know if it's genuine grief or just habit. I'm so confused…..
After about half an hour we're at the front of the line and it's our turn. It's a good job too as the sun will be setting really soon. The old kannushi looks at us as if we have a screw loose because we don't have any children with us but he doesn't stop us from stepping up to the trough alongside the Haiden. We wash ourselves as the ritual demands and then step in front of the main sanctuary. Hanazawa Rui drops a coin in the offering box for us both and pulls the bell rope. As the sound of small bells fills the air I clap twice to gain the attention of the Kami so we may pray to them and we both bow our heads.
"Please, Kami-sama, grant me and my family happiness and health."I pray. I ask for wisdom, strength and courage to get me through my days at Eitoku, and for energy so I can keep up the pace of working two jobs. I also find myself wondering in the back of my mind what Hanazawa Rui is praying for. We finish almost simultaneously and step back away from the shrine in unison.
"Shall we go find Mimasaka-san?" I ask.
"Yeh," He answers with a smile, "his little sisters love him to death and are probably smothering him with their affections. Let's go rescue him." As we start to walk in the direction of our arranged meeting place he reaches out to take my hand and, again, I let him. Why is it beginning to feel natural to me to have my hand in his like this?
"Where are their parents? Isn't it their place to be here?" Taking his sisters out to the shrine for Shichi-Go-San doesn't seem to be something I can see Mimasaka doing of his own volition.
"Probably off somewhere on business. Why don't you ask him, he's waiting for us right where he said he'd be." I look up to see Mimasaka, looking resigned, with his little sisters clinging to him complaining they are bored. His eyes light up as he sees us coming.
"There you are!" he calls in greeting. "I was beginning to think you weren't coming."
"Does this mean we can go now?" Minu asks petulantly. Mimasaka looks very weary for a second.
"Yes, Minu-chan, it does." Her face brightens immediately. "Let's go." He holds his hands out and each little girl takes one as they join us on the path back to the torii.
"So, Mimasaka-san," I begin, "why are you here at the shrine with your sisters instead of your parents?"
"They're in Europe." he answers. "My mother's flying home this evening but my dad isn't able to make it at all."
"Oh…" Their lifestyles boggle my mind. Even though we're poor, our family was together every day when I was growing up and I can't imagine how things are for the F4. I really can't picture living detached from my family, being raised in a house full of respectful but distant servants.
"We're going to have a ceremony when we get home. Mama will be back by then." Minu pipes up, "We're going out to our family shrine and we're going to pray to the ugigami there, then we'll have some fireworks too! It'll be fun."
"It really sounds like fun. I'm glad you get to spend time with your mother today." She grins up at me. She's glad too.
"So tell me, what are you two doing here? I mean--really--why would anyone come here today of all days if they didn't have to?" Mimasaka is looking from Hanazawa Rui to me and back again.
"We're here for Shichi-Go-San, just like we told you." Hanazawa Rui answers.
"Okay, have it your way then, but it looks awfully like a date to me." Mimasaka replies with a shrug. I feel my eyes widen as he speaks. He said what everyone else here probably thinks--that we're on a date. I'm suddenly very aware of my hand, held in Hanazawa Rui's, and feel a blush steal its way across my cheeks. Hanazawa Rui squeezes my hand and, after a moment of silence where nobody speaks, Minu begins to chatter away to me about her day. I'm really glad for the diversion and focus my attention on her.
Before we know it we are passing through the torii and crossing the footbridge back over the railway tracks to Harajuku Station. We're waiting on the steps as Mimasaka pages his chauffeur. "So what are you two going to do now?" he asks. "We can give you a ride if you want."
"What do you say, Tsukushi, want to head back?" Hanazawa Rui asks me. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Mimasaka's reaction to how Hanazawa Rui addresses me. His eyes widen and his brows lift quizzically. I smile because that's kind of how I feel too.
"Yeah, I'm getting hungry." I look over at Hanazawa Rui meaningfully and continue, "I didn't have a chance to eat lunch so I haven't had anything since breakfast except a really good cup of tea. I think we should head back."
"Hey, I've got an idea." Mimasaka's eyes narrow as he hatches something behind them. "What do you think, Minu-chan? Why don't we invite them to come and celebrate Shichi-Go-San with us? It'll be a party." The little girl smiles at the thought.
"Yeah, it'll be fun if you come. There'll be lot's of food and fireworks too." She adds her own persuasion to the mix. How can I say no to that face? Even Nemu, who has been pretty quiet for the most part seems eager to have us join them.
"You're dressed the part, Makino, what do you say?"
"Well, Mimasaka-san, when you put it like that, how can I refuse…..Hanazawa Rui, what about you?" I turn to look up at Hanazawa Rui, standing next to me to get his answer to the invitation.
"Food and fireworks sounds good to me." The smile on his lips colours his voice.
"Ah, here's our car now." Mimasaka announces as their chauffeur pulls up and we all pile in to the back of the limo. It seems like today is becoming increasingly far removed from how I'd imagined it would be. I'd imagined finally being able to relax after another stressful day at school--maybe even hooking up with Yuuki, Shigeru or Sakurako for a bit--but not all this. I spend the car trip talking with the girls, swapping Shichi-Go-San stories. Soon we are sitting head to head, the charms from our fukuro poured out into our laps so we can compare them. Hanazawa Rui and Mimasaka are talking quietly among themselves.
We pass through the gates of Mimasaka's estate and when we arrive at the house his mother is waiting for us on the steps, looking beautiful with her hair up and dressed in wa-fuku. The little girls squeal with delight when they see her, tumbling out of the car in their rush to embrace her. As they huddle in their group hug, I can't get over how she looks much more like their sister than their mother. I'm going to be 18 and she looks younger than I do--I still can't believe she's 21 years older than me. She lets go of her daughters and steps forward to embrace Mimasaka. He blushes, but I think it's because there are witnesses, not because he's being hugged.
"What have we here, Akira? Guests?" She turns to look at me and Hanazawa Rui. "Hello, Hanazawa-san, Makino-san. Are you here to share our celebration?" I nod in reply, surprised she remembers my name as we've only met once before.
"We ran into each other at the shrine….It was kind of a spur-of -the-moment thing, I hope you don't mind." I answer in explanation. I'm relieved when she smiles. It's a genuine smile, not like the scary, brittle smile of Doumiyouji Kaede. Now why did I have to think of that woman?
"Not at all," she replies, "Akira hardly ever has his friends over. The more, the merrier I say, don't you agree girls?" They nod vigorously and she reaches down to hug them both tightly. "Let's go inside, everyone."
The house is brightly lit and smells fresh, like it's been aired out all day. We are led through to the dining room where an amazing array of dishes are spread out, buffet style, along one of the walls. We are told to help ourselves to whatever we want and my stomach is growling so fiercely now, I'm afraid everyone will hear it. Hanazawa Rui steers me over to the food. "Tell the server what you want and they'll make up a plate for you." He instructs.
"What is some of this stuff? I don't recognize it," I whisper to him, "and I don't want to look stupid if I don't know what I'm asking for."
"That," he points to one platter, "is salmon mousse, and that," he points to another, "is 'brie en croute'. You remember the 'foie gras' don't you? You had some at Shizuka's birthday party." He's gesturing to yet another platter.
Oh, I remember that all right. I overindulged in the pate-filled pastries and champagne and I was as sick as a dog--all over Doumiyouji's Armani too. I can't believe I just thought about him again. I take a deep breath as Hanazawa Rui continues to walk alongside the table naming the dishes for me. Not one dish in this buffet is Japanese. "I guess I'll try a little bit of everything." I tell the server, watching as they set a small portion of each dish on a plate for me. "Thank you," I tell her again as she hands me my food. I follow Hanazawa Rui over to sit with Mimasaka at one end of a huge dining table. A servant comes over and pours three generous glasses of wine before moving on to take care of Mimasaka's mother and sisters, who are sitting at the other end of the table, engaged in an animated conversation about today's trip to Meiji Jingu. Mimasaka pushes two of the glasses towards me and Hanazawa Rui.
"Here you go, guys."
"Um, thank you, Mimasaka-san."
"You're welcome, and thanks for coming" He sits back in his chair and takes a sip of wine.
"Thanks for the invitation." I reply, before biting down on a small quiche. Mmmm…it's really good. My stomach growls loudly enough for them both to hear and they start to laugh. Oh, God. I'm so embarrassed my cheeks are glowing, but I have to keep chewing.
"You weren't kidding about being hungry, Makino." Mimasaka chuckles.
"It's not funny," I finally reply when I'm able to swallow the bite. My stomach growls fiercely again to make a liar out of me. I try to look nonplussed but I guess I don't because now they're both doubled over their plates laughing. Bastards! I take a deep draught of wine to collect myself and quiet my stomach and eventually the guys stop laughing and start to eat. Good, now I can have a moment's peace to enjoy my meal. Wow! Everything is sooo good.
When we are finished eating and drinking (the servant poured us each two more glasses of wine and boy can I feel it!), Mimasaka's mother leads us outside as a group, into the gardens of their estate and in the direction of their family shrine. They have beautifully landscaped gardens in more than one style. Right now, we're walking through a rose garden but it seems kind of stark because it's November. A moment ago we passed through a hedge maze that I didn't see on my last visit here. How did I miss that? I guess because the last time I was here we didn't come that way.
Now we're crossing a footbridge over a small stream. I think it must be man-made because I'm not aware of any streams or creeks passing through this part of town. Suddenly we find ourselves on a path of pine needles leading through a small, evergreen forest. Every twenty feet or so there's a lantern placed along the pathway so we can see where we're going. The fading evening light filters through the branches of the trees, lending an ethereal air to the place--I guess that's fitting as we're going to their family shrine to pray to the ugigami. I can't believe how lovely it all is and am surprised to find a lump in my throat. I have to tell Mimasaka's mother what I think and move to walk next to her.
"Um….Mimasaka-san, I just want to tell you how much I admire your gardens," I begin. She turns to look at me.
"Why thank you, Makino-san." She replies. "The gardens were started by Akira's great grandmother, but they've turned into a pet project of my own over the last twenty years."
"I can see why," I answer, "they're so beautiful." She smiles at me.
"They really are, aren't they?" She asks, but I know she's not expecting an answer, just speaking rhetorically. From the look on her face I can tell she really loves her gardens and if I were her, I'd love them too. They're so magnificent, I don't think I'd want to ever leave them.
The little forest comes to an end somewhat abruptly, opening up into a traditional Japanese Garden. I gasp, because even though the transition is kind of sudden it is beautiful none-the-less and takes my breath away. This lovingly groomed acreage is filled with plants and trees native to Japan, somewhat like the gardens of Meiji Jingu and the Imperial Palace but on a smaller scale. Mimasaka's mother leads us across the gardens and down another path. At the end of this path, a small shrine is nestled among the foliage.
"Well, here we are!" she announces when we all stop in front of the small façade. Nemu and Minu are practically bouncing with excitement and I can't help but smile--I wish my first Shichi-Go-San had been so thrilling but, unfortunately, it wasn't. The rest of us stand back and watch as Mimasaka's mother leads Minu to the side of the small Haiden to wash. Nemu takes her brother's hand and, as we look on, Hanazawa Rui reaches out again to take my hand in his own. Again I don't object because the feeling of his hand in mine is strangely comforting. We all stand, grinning like fools, as Mimasaka-san and Minu-chan present themselves to the ugigami. The sound of bells and soft clapping fills the air as they summon the ugigami to listen to their prayers. We watch in silence as they pray to Mimasaka's ancestral spirits and I find the whole thing oddly fulfilling After a few minutes they are finished and step back from the Haiden to join us.
"Shall we have the fireworks now?" Mimasaka's mother asks as she and Minu join us once more.
"Yes…yay!!!" both little girls chime in unison. Mimasaka answers with a shrug, while Hanazawa Rui and I both answer with nods.
"Let's go to the greenhouse, then." She tells us.
Greenhouse? I'm puzzled. We're having the fireworks inside? That can't be right, what am I thinking? We follow her in the direction of the greenhouse, and I stop, startled, when we finally get there. Mimasaka's mother was talking about the same guest house where Doumiyouji and I were locked away together almost five months ago by Nishikado and Mimasaka. I feel my heart contract with pain and my body feels like lead as I remember that time when we were thrown together and hid from Doumiyouji Kaede's spies. I find myself thinking about how things can change in the blink of an eye and stop myself--this isn't a time to mourn for things that didn't come to pass, even though I still wonder why he didn't keep his promise.
There are servants waiting outside for us when we get there--they are standing over a large box of fireworks that has been set on the grass. When they see us they begin lighting the fuses of the fireworks they've already set to discharge in the heavens. Nemu and Minu both squeal with delight as a barrage of sound and light explodes around us and I can't help but share in their joy. Who in this world wouldn't love a fireworks display put on especially for them?
Over the course of the next half-hour, we are treated to the most amazing light show. I find myself standing with my mouth open time and time again. Suddenly, Hanazawa Rui leans over and whispers in my ear, "Hey, Tsukushi, what do you think of these Shichi-Go-San memories?"
"They're fantastic, Hanazawa Rui." I answer. "I can't believe how much I'm enjoying myself."
"I'm glad." He replies. "This is what I was hoping for."
"Really! And there's something else I want to share with you today, but you'll have to come home with me." I look askance at him. The way he phrased his last comment could be viewed with suspicion. He sees the look on my face. "Relax….I can tell by your face you're worried----I assure you it's nothing hentai."
"I was thinking nothing of the sort!!!!" I protest, a little flustered that he knew the direction my thoughts were headed in. He smiles.
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much." He answers with a cheeky wink. I open my mouth to say something but end up closing it again. "So, what do you say? Will you come home with me? It isn't too late, just going on 9:00."
"Okay…." I reply, but I'm a little puzzled. What could he want to share with me that he has to take me home with him?
We stand watching as the last of the fireworks are set off. Nemu and Minu are disappointed that there aren't more but they're happy with how their day has went. We head back towards the main house as the servants begin to clean up the casings of the fireworks that fell back to the lawn. As we walk, Mimasaka's mother turns and addresses us.
"Hanazawa-san, Makino-san, you're welcome to join us for a nightcap if you wish. It's almost time for the girls to go to bed." Nemu and Minu's chorused groans follow her last statement and I smile.
"Aw, Mama, please!!! Can't we stay up later?" Minu asks.
"I'm sorry, but you've got school tomorrow, Minu-chan, and you're so wound up from today it'll probably take you a long time to get to sleep." The little girl hangs her head but doesn't protest any more.
"Thanks for the invitation, Mimasaka-san, but I think we should go. We've imposed on your hospitality enough for one day." Hanazawa Rui answers for us.
"You're welcome, Hanazawa-san, and it was our pleasure to have your company this evening."
Back at the house Mimasaka pages their chauffeur again, even though we tell him it's not necessary and we can walk. As the car pulls up to the front steps and Hanazawa Rui helps me into the back, one of the servants presents us with the bag from the boutique that holds my uniform and I thank her.
"Bai-bai!!!" the little girls call as they wave goodnight from their place on the steps. "Come back and visit with us soon!"
"We will." I call, waving back at them. Mimasaka raises his hand in farewell too.
"I'll see you guys at school tomorrow." He tells us.
"Yeah, see you tomorrow." We both reply.
"So, where to?" the chauffeur asks us as we pull up to the gates of Mimasaka's estate. Hanazawa Rui gives him the directions to his house and I feel nervous as I wonder again what it is he wants to share with me.
After Hanazawa Rui helps me out of the limousine, we stand for a few minutes as if we aren't sure where we're going. I can't help but stare at the gates leading to his estate. They've never felt so imposing before. This isn't the first time I've been here, but it doesn't matter….my knees feel like jelly anyway. Why the Hell am I so nervous? I can tell you why. It's because I haven't had to deal with all this before. The last time I was here, he hadn't declared his love for me. And just what was all that today? He's been so good about everything since we returned from New York. Why wait until now to make it all known? Is it because four months have passed and we still haven't heard from Doumiyouji? Everything that happened today is sinking like so much lead to the pit of my stomach. I feel out of it, like I'm caught in a surreal dream. Now why couldn't he have felt this way about me a year ago before I fell completely in love with Doumiyouji Tsukasa? Things would have been a lot less complicated.
"Tsukushi, are you coming?" My train of thought is interrupted by his question. He's leaning against the open gate, studying me.
"Huh….what?" I'm taken by surprise.
"You are coming in, right?"
"Oh…yeah…I promised." I answer weakly. At my response he ushers me in front of him, and I end up standing in front of the servants before he does. They seem a little surprised to see us.
"Hanazawa-sama, you're home," He looks over at them.
"So?" he queries.
"Ummm….it's nothing." The servant answers, a touch hesitantly.
"Well that's good. We'll be in the music room." He tells them dismissively, leading the way across the lobby to a closed door. I've only ever been in his room before--I've never been anywhere else in his house. I assumed it was traditional the whole way, but I can't imagine what a music room in a traditional Japanese house would look like, especially when he plays an instrument that's European in origin, not Japanese. I hurry across the entrance way after him, my zoori clattering against the wooden floor with every step I take. I can feel their eyes on our backs as I catch up to him and wonder what they're thinking. He opens the door to what I assume is the music room and motions for me to go in. I move round him and step through the door and end up being startled. I'm not in a room like I expected. Rather, I find myself in a corridor. Hanazawa Rui comes up beside me and gestures down the corridor to the door at the end.
"That's the music room there, Tsukushi." He tells me. "It's not part of the original house." He adds, seeing the curiosity on my face. We walk along the corridor, and as he opens the door to the room he continues, "My father built it for my mother."
"She plays an instrument too?" I ask as he fumbles for the light switch just inside the room.
"Several." He answers as his fingers find the switch and we can see where we are. I can't play any instruments at all, so I can't help but feel a little inadequate and jealous. That feeling is magnified a little when I take in the sight before me. The music room is round and the high glass walls open to an amazing view of the gardens. There is a grand piano and various other instruments displayed on stands close to the chairs set around the music room.
"Wow!" I exclaim, surprised to hear my voice carry round the room. The acoustics are amazing. "So, what was it that you wanted to share with me?" I get straight to the point, listening to my question echoing off the glass walls.
"A song." He replies softly.
"Yes. Inspired by you--for you really, if you think about it. It's not finished yet but I'd like you to hear the first movement."
"Really?" I wince--I must sound obtuse. He nods, a slight smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"Really. Here, have a seat." He pulls a chair over behind me and sits me down on it. When I'm settled he walks over to where his violin rests, cradled in a display case, and takes it out. I watch him test and tune it, and realize my stomach feels funny. He's always seemed kind of annoyed when I interrupted his violin playing before, like I was destroying the solitary communion of his soul with his instrument. I feel strangely privileged but afraid at the same time. He's calling me Tsukushi, and now he's sharing his music with me. I can feel our relationship has moved to a new stage and I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that at the moment. I don't know if I'm ready. Hell, I'm not sure I'll ever be ready, what with the state my heart is in.
"Okay, here goes." I'm brought back to reality by his voice cutting through my thoughts. I find myself sitting up straighter as he begins to play. The sound is high and sweet and the tune is gentle. He's not reading any music, so he must know it by heart. I guess that's to be expected when you're the composer, though. I watch him as he plays--his eyes are closed and he is lost in the music. I've never seen such a look of absolute rapture on his face before. A strange warm feeling washes over me as I listen to him.
I inspired this? My God.I can't breathe all of a sudden.
The music has changed again. Now it's lighthearted and lively--mischievous almost. Is this how he sees me? Sweet and lively? I watch his fingers move expertly over the strings as they produce the exquisite music I am caught up in, and again have a pang of regret about not knowing how to play even one instrument. But then, on the other hand, I can always cheer myself up with the thought that it's only a very select group of girls who have a song written for them. The music changes, slow and heartbreaking now. As I sit here listening to this beautiful glimpse of Hanazawa Rui's soul, I feel a lump forming in my throat and tears pricking at my eyes and struggle to get a hold of myself. I can't afford to break down.
All too soon, it is over and I watch him, looking as if he's shaking off a trance. "So what do you think, Tsukushi? Do you like it?" he asks as he turns to put the violin back in its case.
"It's beautiful, absolutely beautiful." I answer, my voice trembling a little.
"I would say I have to agree." A woman's voice comes from behind me. I almost jump ten feet in the air, I'm so startled.
Hanazawa Rui looks past me towards the door. I think it's safe to say he's almost as surprised as I am.
I turn around slowly, half-afraid of what I'm going to see. From the look on Hanazawa Rui's face, I suspect the woman is a relative.
"It's been a long time since we've heard you in here, Rui." The woman tells him. I'm finally able to get a glance of the person he's talking to. She's in her forties by the looks of it and has shoulder-length hair the same colour as Hanazawa Rui. I'm surprised to see she's Caucasian and not Japanese and dressed in an exquisite pant suit. Why do I find myself sitting stock still and hoping I'll go unnoticed?
"What can I say? I was uninspired for a while." He shrugs at her. They are so casual with each other it makes me uneasy.
"So, you have inspiration now?" She flicks a cursory glance at me and I wince mentally at the question. I hate the thought of finding myself as the object of her scrutiny, especially when I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that she's his mother.
"Yes I do." He answers. Just three little words, but they say so much. His voice was strong and firm when he answered. She turns to study me further and I'm caught in a serene yet measuring gaze that makes me uncomfortable. I feel like I'm being catalogued and filed for future reference.
"Your father is on a call at the moment, why don't we save formal introductions until he's done." Formal introductions? With his father? My knees turn to water and I'm eternally grateful I'm sitting down. She's got to be kidding, right?
"Sure." He answers, nonchalantly. How can he be so casual about this? He continues the conversation. "When did you get back?"
"A little over an hour ago. We were finishing supper when we heard your violin. Your father was coming to the music room with me when a business call came through from New York…..It's been a while since you've seen each other, you know."
"I know," He replies quietly. I feel like I'm eavesdropping and look down at the floor below me, making a show of studying my feet. He walks over to where I sit, trance-like, in my chair and holds a hand out to me. I take it, glad he's there to help me get to my feet. I'm not sure I could do it on my own. I lean heavily on him as I stand, battling down the butterflies surging inside me. Why did I agree to come back here with him? I should've begged off and went straight home after the fireworks display--then I could have contented myself with the thought that today was an almost perfect day. Now, instead, here I am dreading the next half hour of my life.
The woman I'm now sure is his mother leads us back to the main house and my discomfort grows with every step we take.