Love Remains 1
It was the grandest house Tohru had ever been in. Grand in that way particular to Victorian houses, it was a fine collection of gleaming polished wood, of seemingly endless corridors, of staircases and back passages. The house was divided into wings, and there was even a tower at one of the house. Tohru would have loved to explore that, but she was on best behaviour and afraid of losing her mother and Hatori, who was leading them through the house.
"The drawing room," Hatori said, opening a door. "Please sit."
There were four chairs set out within, a small table between them. The rest of the room's furnishings were hidden beneath dust cloths.
The older man, Ritsu, who had decided against joining them on the tour of the house, was pouring cups of tea. He hesitated before pouring Tohru's. "Do you take tea?"
Tohru's voice seemed diminished by the room. She took her cup carefully, it would not do to spill anything.
"You've seen the house," Hatori said. "What do you think?"
"It's incredible," Kyoko said, not reaching for her own cup. "I didn't think houses like these still existed."
"It's been in our family for generations," Ritsu said, sounding embarrassed by the sound of his own voice.
Hatori took a sip of his drink, then laid it down deliberately. "None of the family live here now. The housekeeper would be all alone, save for the one week every year that we gather here. That alone has been sufficient to put off most applicants. A house like this, so big—it's hard to feel secure."
Kyoko laughed. "We're not most applicants."
"I noticed that." Hatori took another deliberate sip. "I hope you don't mind—I took the liberty of running a background search on you."
"That was a long time ago," Kyoko said. "I have a daughter to raise now, I'm not so foolhardy—"
"But still as determined, I hope." Hatori pushed his glasses up, looking directly at Kyoko. "It strikes me, Honda-san, that you may be just the woman we need."
Tohru couldn't believe it. Was it really possible? They knew about her mother and the gang—and they still wanted to employ them? They might actually be allowed to live in this wonderful house?
Kyoko looked squarely at Hatori. "This would have to do with the house's reputation, wouldn't it? You see, I've also done some background research."
"Commendable," Hatori said. "I shall of course be willing to answer any questions, but are you sure you want . . ." he paused, and Tohru realised he was looking at her.
The adults shared a look that went over her head, and then Ritsu, softly apologetic, said, "The garden is really lovely—would you like to see it, Tohru-san?"
He looked as though he would burst into tears if she said no, so Tohru agreed.
The gardens were lovely, if overgrown, full of winding roses, which clambered up the side of the house, a trellis hung with wisteria, leading down to a lawn which bordered a slowly moving river, shaded by willow. It was the most perfect place Tohru had ever seen. She could hardly believe they were going to live here.
"I'm not as young as I used to be," Ritsu said apologetically as they reached a bench. "I might have to take a rest. Feel free to look around. Just . . . be careful by the river."
Strange warning, Tohru thought but she was careful to stay a safe distance away from the river. She'd found what must have once been a fishpond, now steadily over taken by water lily and was busily engrossed in hunting for fish when she noticed it had suddenly become dark. Had she really been out here such a long time?
She glanced back the way she'd came and was reassured to see Ritsu still sitting on the bench. It looked like he might be asleep. Should she wake him up? Tohru hesitated. For all that he couldn't be much older than her mother, Ritsu looked a lot wearier . . . maybe it was better to let him sleep, even though that bench could not be very comfortable.
It was getting colder too. Tohru shivered. She'd left her coat in the dining room but going back to get it would be out of the question. She couldn't disturb whatever important matters Hatori-san and her mother were talking about.
A light suddenly flicked on close by.
Turning Tohru saw that the lights in one of the rooms overlooking the garden had been turned on. Through the window she saw shelves of books and recognised the library from Hatori's tour. He'd said that in the summer they left the doors onto the patio open, hadn't he?
Tohru followed the lights around a corner and discovered that her memory had been correct and that there was a low covered patio that gave access to the library as well as another unlit room. Tohru tried the handle of the door smiling with relief as it came open.
"I'm sorry to disturb you," Tohru said as she stepped into the room, "but I—" she paused. She'd scanned the whole breadth of the room and as far as she could see—
--there was no-one there.
"Okaasan? Hatori-san?" Tohru opened the doors leading from the library only to be greeted by darkness. It was too dark inside the house to be able to walk around without a light on—so where had they gone?
Tohru lent against one of the bookcases. What did she do now? Her mother had given her strict instructions not to wander off, and the house was rather strange in the darkness. But she didn't want to go back outside again either, so would it hurt if she just stayed in the library—
Coming to the conclusion that it wouldn't, Honda turned to the corner where she'd seen a comfortable looking armchair overlooking the garden. And shrieked.
The chair was already occupied.
In her confusion, it took a few seconds for Tohru to calm herself enough to get a good look at the chair's occupant. He was her age or not much older, hair cut short and tapered to the base of his neck, and an untidy fringe that parted in the middle to reveal merry eyes.
He was also laughing at her.
Tohru felt herself blush. "I'm sorry—I didn't see you there—"
He didn't seem to be able to reply he was laughing too hard.
"Are—are you all right?" Tohru asked after a few minutes had passed and the boy still hadn't stopped laughing.
"Fine—I'm sorry," the boy said. "But you should have seen the look on your face!" he chuckled again, wiping tears away from his eyes. "I think I'm done." He stood, putting a book back in the shelf beside her head. "Sorry about that—not the best way to get introduced." He had a pleasant smile. "Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you," Tohru bowed, blushing some more. He was rather cute—"I hope I didn't disturb you."
"Not at all," he said, with a playful grin. "I hope I didn't scare you too much—Ha-san says it's a nasty habit of mine, surprising people—"
"Eh?" Tohru was startled. "Hatori-san? Are you part of the family too?" She could then have kicked herself. What a stupid question—why would the boy be here if it wasn't his house?
"Guess he didn't tell you about me," the boy studied her with thoughtfulness somewhat at odds with his light tone of voice. "So what have you been told about the Souma family and house?"
"A lot!" Tohru said eagerly. "Hatori took my mother and I all over the house this afternoon. It's so beautiful—I do hope we get the chance to live here, it must be wonderful!"
"Live here—ah, your mother must be applying for the housekeeping job."
"That's right," Tohru smiled. "We've met Hatori-san and Ritsu-san too and we heard a little about the rest of the family—" she sighed. "It's a shame that your family no longer lives here. Its such a big house—you could have the entire family in here!"
"So you haven't been told—" the boy said, pausing as Tohru looked at him.
"Nothing," he said, leaning back against the bookcase. "Just a word of advice. People are going to tell you a lot of things about this house—don't believe everything you hear."
Tohru frowned. "But why would—"
"I haven't read this in a while," the boy said, pulling another book from the shelves. "Oh, by the way, did I introduce myself? Souma Shigure."
"Honda Tohru," Honda smiled. "I'm pleased to have made your acquaintance."
"Likewise," he said with another careless grin. "I have to get going now, but I'm sure we'll meet again, Honda Tohru."
"Oh just Tohru is fine," Tohru said, jumping as the door behind her was thrown open. "Eek!"
"Tohru! Oh, here you are!" Kyoko was hugging her tightly. "Where did you wander off to? Hatori-san and Ritsu-san have been very anxious about you—"
"I'm so sorry!" Tohru said. "It was cold outside and the light was on so I—"
"The light was on?" Ritsu questioned but Hatori was looking around the room with an irritated expression on his face.
"I could have sworn I heard talking—"
"It was only me," Tohru said. "I was talking to Shigure-san about—"
The adult's reaction to that statement was astonishing. Ritsu gasped, her mother stared and Hatori just seemed to grow even more forbidding.
"Yes. He's right here—well, he was a minute ago," Tohru was a little disconcerted to find her companion had managed to disappear without her noticing. He'd said he liked surprising people, perhaps she should have expected this. She turned around to find the grownups still staring at her.
"Shigure?" Hatori said sternly.
"You must know him—he certainly knew you," Tohru said, puzzled. "He said he was one of the family." She did not like not knowing what was going on. "He is, isn't he?"
"Tohru, this isn't something to joke about," her mother said softly.
"I'm not making this up!" Tohru stamped her foot. "Look, why don't you just go ask him who turned on the light, he'll tell you!"
"That's impossible," Hatori replied curtly. "My cousin is—"
Ritsu moaned. "Don't say it, Hatori—"
"Perhaps one of your neighbours thought it might be funny to play a joke of Tohru," Kyoko suggested slowly. "Are there any families with children round here?"
"Of course—" Hatori said. "That's what must have happened. I'm going to search the garden, he might still be here."
He was out in the garden without wasting another moment.
"How about a nice cup of tea?" Ritsu suggested, leading them out of the library. "You'll need something to warm you before you leave."
Kyoko agreed, but Tohru would have liked to go home immediately. She had so many questions to ask her mother.
"Good news, Tohru," Kyoko said, as they sat in the kitchen, sipping tea with Ritsu. "Hatori has offered us the job."
"That's wonderful!" Tohru said, cheering up immediately. "When do we move in?"
"You should think carefully before accepting," Ritsu said softly, brushing his hair away from his care worn face. "This house has a sad history." He held out a book to Tohru.
As she took it she realised it was a photo album. "Oh look! It's the house—and there are the gardens—doesn't everything look neat!" Tohru drank in all the details eagerly, flipping over the page.
"It must be stunning here in the summer—look at all those roses," Kyoko said, looking over Tohru's shoulder. "Why have you stopped?"
Tohru had paused at a portrait of a boy in neat school uniform sitting on the same bench that Ritsu had napped on. "He wasn't trying to fool me—he is part of the family!"
"Tohru?" Kyoko said.
"That's the boy I talked to!" Tohru said triumphantly, pointing to the photo. "That's Shigure—isn't it, Ritsu-san?"
To her surprise Ritsu-san looked immeasurably grave. "Yes. That's Shigure." He looked at Kyoko. "You see—"
Kyoko was frowning.
Hatori was heard in the hallway outside, and Ritsu took up the album quickly. "Don't say anything," he whispered as his younger family member entered the room.
"He must have slipped out before I could find him," Hatori said briskly. "I'll have a word with our neighbours tomorrow." He nodded to Kyoko and Tohru. "Well, we don't want to keep you too late. When do you think you'll be ready to give us an answer, Honda-san?"
"Tohru and I will talk it over tonight, and give you our answer tomorrow," Kyoko said, shaking hands with Hatori and Ritsu. "Thanks very much for your time."
"Are we going to take the job?" Tohru asked as she and her mother walked to the bus stop.
"I don't know. Its up to you, hon. Although I'd have thought you'd hardly like to live there after—"
"But it's such a gorgeous house! Why would I not want to live there?" Tohru was confused.
"It will take a lot of work to keep such a big house in order, you know," Kyoko said. "And Hatori was concerned that we would find it a little lonely."
"I don't care about that!" Tohru protested. "And neither do you—what's changed your mind?"
Kyoko was silent awhile. And then she said, "Hatori told me some stuff about the house—it has a rather unhappy history. In fact, there are a few people in this neighbourhood who believe it to be haunted."
"Haunted?" Tohru repeated. "But aren't haunted houses supposed to be scary?"
"The house doesn't scare you?"
"Not at all," Tohru said. "I think its lovely."
They walked a bit further in silence.
"Tohru—the boy you met in the library," Kyoko said finally. "Was there anything … strange about him?"
"Not at all—he seemed very nice. He did scare me at first but he apologised afterwards," Tohru said. "I like him. I wonder why Hatori didn't believe me…"
"You didn't feel threatened by him? Worried at all?"
"No." What was with her mother's questions? "I told you, he was nice. It's a shame he left so quickly, I think you would have liked him."
Kyoko was thoughtful all the bus ride home. As she tucked Tohru into bed Tohru asked again about the job.
"What are you going to tell Hatori?"
"Its up to you, honey," Kyoko said, sitting on the foot of the bed. "Are you sure you feel safe there?"
"Then we'll take the job." Kyoko ruffled her hair. "In fact, I'll call Hatori now to tell him so."
"Ask him if we can move in tomorrow," Tohru said, as her mother left. She settled back into her bed with a happy sigh. Just imagine it … that fairy tale house theirs …
She did wonder again why Hatori would not believe that Shigure was in the house but dismissed the thought. She was sure it would all make sense … and think how nice it would be to see that garden properly cared for …
Somewhere in the midst of planning Tohru fell asleep. She had pleasant dreams full of anticipation.
In the Souma homestead Hatori sipped his tea.
"I can't believe you're ignoring this," Ritsu said. He stood with his back to Hatori, looking out over the gardens.
"There is nothing to get upset about," the younger man replied coolly. "I've appraised Honda-san of the situation and she has decided to accept it. She's an intelligent woman, and not likely to be put off by the house's quirks."
"What happened this afternoon was not a quirk," Ritsu said. "Hatori, how can you ignore this?"
"There is a logical explanation, Ritsu. Either one of the neighbourhood kids decided to play a joke on Tohru—"
"She identified him from the photo album!"
"Or Tohru has somehow found out about the house and its history, and is attempting to trick us."
Ritsu said nothing. They'd had this argument or at least variations on it before.
After a few moments he spoke. "The library light is on again."
"I'll call an electrician in the morning."
The door slammed as Ritsu left.
Hatori finished his tea slowly and methodically. Unlike the rest of his family, he didn't see the need to create a drama out of every little thing. Sure tragic things happened, but that didn't mean you went to pieces. He laid his emptied cup on the table beside him and moved to stand by the window. The library light illuminated the fish pond and the gazebo, and he studied the shapes they made in the darkness.
He was far too sensible to let his imagination run away with him, but in the darkness he could see why others might believe—
The library light turned off.