Note: POV Satoshi
Over the past week, the sun slowly ate away at the remaining snow until it disappeared. The winter chill still hung in the air and on everyone's breath. I didn't mind so much that the snow was gone, but Kasumi always said it was what made winter more bearable. Cold was cold to me, snow only made things more wet. I could remember how much it used to snow up north when I was younger. Not nearly as much as in Sapporo, but Iwate slept under a white blanket for months at a time.
I had been staying at Kasumi's place ever since the incident. It took her hours, but she finally persuaded me to take the bed in the guest room that used to belong to one of her sisters. It was alright, but I preferred the couch. There were so many memories attached to it; it was comfortable. Beds made me feel uneasy, always worrying about rolling over too many times and ending up on the floor. With my futon, that didn't matter. I was already on the floor.
Kasumi insisted, though, because of my wound. It kept me sleeping on my back. Other positions were too painful. She still didn't understand why I hadn't made a bigger deal of the severity. Her mind was stuck in human terms, and I could see why. Such a wound to any normal person and they'd be finished. I just needed to sleep it off. I only wished I could have told her everything was going to be fine. Vampires can heal almost any wound, it just took time. No sense in wasting energy, so we would slip into a deep coma. It never looked pretty, but nothing I could have done about that.
It was still sore. It hurt to cough. I tried not to wince whenever that happened, but Kasumi always caught it, running to see if I was okay. That big heart of hers still surprised me, possibly giving me a little more faith in people. I felt incredibly lucky to have her in my life.
She was adjusting well, at least on the outside. Every once in a while, maybe during our walk to school, she'd quickly cover her mouth with a hand, but only to swallow and continue like nothing had happened. She ate soybeans often, something small to fill her up quickly. Her efforts were admirable, but I knew she'd need blood eventually. In her early stage, if she put off drinking for too long, she would become worse than I was when she came to my aid. I wasn't going to allow that, though. I never told her this, but that was one reason why vampires preferred to stay in pairs. Just in case one sank too low, the other was there to donate. It was a last resort, but no doubt practical.
I was watching some television one night when I realized Kasumi wasn't sitting next to me anymore. I hadn't even noticed she had gotten up. Her scent had vanished. It was all through the house, yes, but the strength had weakened. Kasumi's scent was welcoming; the rich aroma of fresh baked bread, some sort of fruit (I'd say mango), and a sharp sting of something piney, perhaps juniper. It was wonderful; I loved it. I missed it.
So, turning off the set, I made my way up the stairs to search for her. The house was mostly dark. I knocked on Kasumi's bedroom door and slowly opened it. I was instantly engulfed in a cloud of her scent.
"Hmm?" She slowly sat up in bed, trying to get a better look through the darkness. "Oh, Satoshi. It's you."
"Did you tell me you were going to bed?" I asked.
"Yes, did you not hear me?" She giggled softly.
I paused to look at her. The moonlight was coming in from her window and casting bluish silver shadows all over her face.
"Did you need something?" She asked.
"Um, no," I answered. "I just wanted to say good night."
I went over to give her a quick kiss.
"Good night," Kasumi said and lay back down.
I left her room and silently closed the door. As soon as I did, I felt that all too familiar hand on my shoulder. I turned around instinctively, but of course nothing was there. The hallway was empty, dark and still, yet the air seemed heavier. I opened Kasumi's door once more to make sure she had fallen asleep before closing it again and walking calmly down the stairs.
I grabbed my sunglasses, slid on my shoes and put on my coat. Outside, the streets were deserted. Not many people were out this late. Lights from living rooms glowed through windows and televisions flickered bright colors. Occasionally, I could hear laughter from a late night comedy show. For once, there were no clouds in the sky, making the air cold, dry and stiff. The first couple breaths pained my chest.
As I walked on I could feel my heart quicken its beat in anxiousness. I tried to calm myself, however, but ended up wanting to laugh. It was uncanny how that worked as an advantage. Yet, why bother controlling my blood anymore? Deep down, I wanted to keep this anxiety.
Even though it had only been a week, Yousei looked completely foreign to my eyes. The shrine, my house, was so much smaller and shabby. The trees were old instead of almighty and wise, hanging there with no leaves, captive in winter's wind. The gravestones seemed less plentiful, but more depressing. Something in the back of my mind asked me how I could have lived here all those years. How could I have called this my home? I regained my focus and continued on my way, toward the back of the cemetery, toward my father's grave.
Sure enough, she was there, standing in front of the Tajiri family stone. Her usual, sakura print kimono had been replaced with a burnt red one, dotted with yellow and orange falling leaves. Her attire was never seasonally appropriate.
"You're a good boy," Hanako said, "coming right when your mother arrives."
She turned to face me and I noticed how her eyes were a bit swollen with dark circles hanging underneath them. They did not fool me, though.
"Oh, why such a stern face?" She asked. "It's me."
I nodded in agreement. It was her, yes, but she didn't seem to understand the feelings that came along with that fact.
"Here," She said, rummaging through her large sleeves, pulling out a box. "I picked these up for you when I was home in Iwate."
She held out the Nambu Senbei; they were considered a specialty of the region.
"Thank you," I said, taking the small box.
"I would have brought some reimen, but it's hard to transport noodles safely," Hanako replied. "You used to love those."
I shrugged. I honestly didn't remember.
Hanako swallowed, "You're anxious, aren't you?"
"You would know," I replied, probably a little too cocky.
"Satoshi," She said, threateningly. "That's not what I taught you. It's cruel to taunt a vampire. You should know that, as well."
She sighed, "But who am I to talk—I probably drove you mad each time you saw me?"
I nodded again. There were some tough days that stood out in mind.
"Why did you come back?" I asked.
Hanako hesitated, pursing her lips and looking to the side. "How's your wound?"
My blood pulsed achingly, causing me to clench my teeth. Of course, I was glad my own mother felt guilt for stabbing me and almost killing me. I had plenty of practice throwing my temptations aside. So, I quickly concentrated on something else. Kasumi came to mind, her face shadowed in the moonlight, her deep blue eyes almost glowing. I took a deep breath and was calmed.
"It's almost healed," I replied.
Hanako stepped closer, "May I see?"
I took off my coat and lifted my sweater. The winter chill immediately began to feast on my bare skin. Hanako placed her fingertips on my wound, or what was left of it.
"All for that," Hanako pondered aloud.
That? Ah, Kasumi.
"For her," I corrected. "You shouldn't have done that, Mother."
"Me? You shouldn't have done that!" She yelled.
I put my coat back on, "You chased her with grandfather's sword!"
"She deserved it! She had tainted you," Hanako said, placing a hand on my cheek, "My son."
I jerked my head away from her reach. "She understands me more than you ever have."
Hanako moaned in frustration, "I did not come here to talk about her."
"Come back with me…to Iwate," She said. "Morioka will be having its spring festival soon. Remember all those beautiful cherry blossoms?"
The sakura trees were wonderful, like nowhere else in Japan. The wind would blow, scattering the light pink petals and it suddenly would appear to be snowing. It was the only event in my childhood I would endure taking my sunglasses off for in the daylight.
"There's a sakura tree in the school yard," I replied, smiling more now at the memory of always finding Kasumi there at lunch hour. I should bring her to Morioka some day to see those cherry blossoms, I thought.
"You won't leave?"
"No," I said. "I'm staying here with Kasumi."
Hanako turned her back on me, once again facing Father's grave.
"I'm not saying you have to leave," I continued. "By all means, stay here. Stay with Dad. All I'd ask is that you leave Kasumi alone."
"I hate that woman."
"I think I figured that out," I said. "Can you promise me you'll leave her be?"
"Satoshi," Hanako replied, facing me and pulling me into an embrace. "She's taken you away from me. How can you expect me to regard her kindly?"
"Because I love her."
"Yes. I thought it was obvious."
Hanako let me go, her face ashen.
"Shouldn't you be happy for me?" I asked. "You always told me how great Dad was because he accepted you for who you were and loved you that way. Kasumi is the same. She's accepted me. I finally found someone who I can open up to, someone who doesn't judge me for what I do. You should be happy for me. Be happy for me!"
"My own son is abandoning me," Hanako cried, not listening to what I was telling her.
"Mother!" I yelled in annoyance. "I'm not abandoning you; will you please listen to me? Did you know why Kasumi came here that night?"
Hanako looked up.
"She wanted to talk with you, to know you," I said. "She never had intentions of taking me away from you, as you say. She was trying to work things out, and you tore her up."
Hanako tucked a stray hair behind her ear. "That's not how things work."
"Are you serious?" I asked, exasperated to the highest extend.
I could not believe how childish she was acting, how selfish. For the first time in my life, I wanted to hit my mother. I considered myself a patient person, but right now my limits were being reached.
"Oh, Satoshi!" Hanako said and my attention was brought back.
I looked over at her and actually saw a few tears fall. I hadn't seen my mother cry since the night of my father's death. Now my own guilt made me feel nauseous. Still, I didn't feel like I was asking too much of her.
"She's not good enough for you," She said.
"I think I'm the one who decides that," I replied. "The least you could do is acknowledge that. I make my own choices and I choose Kasumi."
"Over me?" Hanako whimpered.
I groaned, "Mother!"
She hugged me tightly once more, "Alright. I'll try."
"Yes," She said, "but don't expect quick results."
With that, she released me and walked straight into the shrine, sliding the door shut behind her. I watched the old, tattered building for a while, half expecting her to come out and yell at me some more for not being a loyal son. She never did. I turned to Father's grave and saw she had placed a box of Botan Rice Candy in front of it. Those were his favorite candy. He brought a box every time he visited me.
I knelt in front of the stone, "Hi, Dad, it's Satoshi. Things have been a little bumpy lately. I have this feeling that if you were still here, Mom would be less touchy. I'm sure you'd like Kasumi. She's great. I think everything is going to be alright, though."
I felt myself chock up a little bit. I hadn't talked with my father for so long. I made sure to look in his direction every day, nod my respects, but I hardly updated him on my life like I should have. Something deep down told me he already knew. Talking it out scared me. That meant I had to feel things and show I felt them. I held a stone face for so many years, it was odd to relax. I wasn't used to it completely yet, so I had to learn to control something completely different.
"I miss you, Dad," I placed a hand on top of his grave and bowed my head.
I stood slowly, promising him I would return soon and often. After this winter, his stone would need a good wash. It was getting late; I had no idea how long I had been there, so I began to walk back to Kasumi's place. I closed the gate quietly and it began to snow. Clouds must have rolled in when I wasn't looking. The flakes were fluffy and took their time getting to the ground. A couple landed on my coat and simply sat there, not wanting to melt, so I brushed them off.
Looking straight into the falling snow made me dizzy, so I watched my feet as I walked home.
I looked up; I was about half way back. There stood Kasumi, walking to greet me. She still wore her pajamas, with her winter coat on. She was clutching the top closed so no snow could get in, wearing her mittens. She made it to me and gazed up into my face, the biggest smile spreading her lips.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
"Oh, I couldn't seem to get back to sleep after you came in," She said. "So I went down to get a drink and noticed you weren't home."
"You knew where I was?"
"No," She giggled, "but I had a pretty good guess. What were you doing?"
"Visiting my dad," I answered.
Kasumi raised her eyebrows, expecting the second half to my answer already.
"And Hanako is back," I finished.
She nodded, but did not seem afraid.
"I think I may have gotten through to her," I said. "Maybe."
"Maybe," Kasumi agreed. "You don't need to tell me if you don't want to. It's between you and her."
She stood taller so she could kiss me. Her lips were cold.
"You want to go home now?" She asked.
I nodded, putting an arm around her shoulder as we started back. "You know, I'd like to take you to Iwate sometime."
"Yeah, it is the most beautiful in the spring. You wouldn't believe the cherry blossoms," I said.
"Oh, that sounds wonderful," Kasumi replied.
I looked down to her and it was just then that I began to appreciate snow. Somehow, those small, white specs seemed to magnify the beauty of everything, especially that of a woman. The flakes got caught on Kasumi's lashes and she giggled as they landed on her nose. They brought my attention to so many new details I may have missed on an ordinary day. I never noticed the small amount of auburn mixed in with her red hair before. She had this freckle on her neck, just below her ear.
"What is it?" Kasumi asked. "You're staring."
"It must be something, you're grinning," She countered.
I let out a single laugh before saying, "You're beautiful."
She instantly blushed a furious red and turned her gaze to the street ahead of us.
I felt my chest swell with something and I believed I finally understood what happiness was.
The next morning came all too soon. I rolled over, one too many times, and fell flat out of the guest bed and onto the floor. The carpet, poorly vacuumed due to the rare use of the room, puffed out a great amount of dust which I unfortunately inhaled. That was three mornings this week that that happened. You'd think I'd have learned by now. I swore under my breath as I got up, brushed off my pajamas and pulled out my clothes for the day. Another day of school…
Exiting the room, an intoxicating smell met my nose. I followed it, down the stairs and into the kitchen. Kasumi stood by the stove, watching a frying pan with a spatula in one hand. She was already wearing her school uniform. Since her skirt was ripped from the previous week, she hemmed a new edge. Our school's skirts were normally ankle length so it was odd being able to see her calves. I was surprised she hadn't gotten in trouble for altering it. Knowing her, she'd accidentally start a trend. Her friend, Sae-san was already talking of shortening her own. I didn't understand it.
"Good morning," Kasumi said cheerfully.
"I hope you're hungry."
"What are you making?" I asked, peering over her shoulder into the pan.
"Pancakes," She replied. "Have you never had them?"
She sighed, "I guessed that'd be the answer. What did you honestly eat before meeting me?"
I thought about that for a moment.
"Don't answer that," Kasumi stopped me. "Sit down and I'll fill your plate."
I sat at the table, waiting for my breakfast like a little child. Once the pancakes were in front of me I wasn't sure how to eat them. They weren't a normal breakfast food, especially for me. Kasumi usually made omelet for the both of us, seeing as it was her favorite morning meal. I wondered what made this morning so special. I cut a piece and placed it in my mouth. The sweetness surprised me.
Kasumi laughed. "I thought you'd like them with that sweet tooth of yours."
"They don't look like they would be sweet," I said. "I was expecting plain bread."
"I know," Kasumi agreed. "This is my mother's recipe; she always added something special to give them an extra kick."
"What's the occasion?" I asked, continuing to stuff my face.
"It has to be something," I said. "You always have a reason behind every odd thing you do."
She scowled at me, but playfully. "You're beautiful."
I stalled the fork halfway to my mouth. She had the funniest look on her face, trying to remain serious but wanting to laugh. I put the utensil down and shook my head.
"You're not going to get me that easily."
"Aww," She pouted. "I never see you blush."
"Good try, though."
"Oh!" Kasumi exclaimed, viewing the clock on her stove. "Look at the time! We're going to be late. Quick, finish up."
I shoved a few more bites into my mouth before handing her the plate. She shuffled every dish into the sink for later and we each grabbed our school bags by the door. We walked at a fast pace, not wanting to run for the fear of hitting a patch of ice on the street. As we passed Yousei, we both looked through the gate. It was such a natural habit. Mother was nowhere in sight, but she was probably sleeping. I nodded my head in the direction of Father's grave, remembering my promise and walked on.
Sae-san was standing near a lamp post on a side street, waving her hand above her head. Kasumi jogged the short way up to her.
"You guys are late!" Sae-san said. "I almost left without you!"
"Yes, I'm sorry," Kasumi bowed her head. "But breakfast took a little longer than I thought."
Kasumi looked over her shoulder to make sure I was still following her and flashed a big smile.
"Come on, Satoshi."
"I'm coming," I sighed.
She kept her smile until I reached her and we all continued to walk to school together. She and Sae-san talked up a storm as I stayed on the side. I didn't mind. I stole glances at Kasumi, her facial expressions as Sae-san jabbered on about nothing in particular. I liked how Kasumi didn't try and hide her new smile. Her fangs were clearly visible with every laugh, every grin. Doing that took me years.
Kasumi looked up at me, caught me staring again, and smiled wide. I knew I could live this life no problem. I wanted these mornings to repeat themselves, falling out of bed and all. Plus, I knew things could only get better, as long as she was there beside me, smiling away.