A Thousand Trees (Chinese Whispers)
By Ryan Bodle
Revised: 13th July 2007
Completed: 19th July 2007
The alarm clock kicked to life as the time changed to 6:30am, immediately the radio engaged. Already half way through a sentence, the weather reporter droned on about how the typical Odaiba summer was to continue. No one really need guess from the golden heat that currently warmed the city.
It didn't matter how loud the radio blared the inane reporter's voice. The owner didn't need waking. She had regretfully slept a fitful, few hours last night and had been sitting up around four, doing nothing but letting her mind wander in the darkness. Again her eyes wandered over the pin up calender she had made of Teenage Wolves, her favourite band. She was late.
The sound waves did however prompt her to leave the confines of her bed. At least to get ready for school. She showered and dressed for school quicker than usual. She'd need to make a detour today. No time for breakfast either. This was important, a matter of life and death. Well, not life and death. Maybe just life.
Stealthily she proceeded outside. If she guessed right, her mom would be downstairs making breakfast right now. She picked up her satchel and with tediously slow gestures, slid her bedroom door open. She stepped out without making a noise and with slow and practised discipline, closed it behind her.
The apartment was deathly quiet. Nothing stirred the slightest noise anywhere in her home or the shop downstairs. She hurried to the front door ahead and slipped on her shoes. 'Almost free,' she thought to herself
"Sora-honey?" Takenouchi Sora almost jumped out of her skin at the summon. "Aren't you leaving for school a little early?" Her mother asked.
'Dammit,' Sora mentally cursed. "Hey mom," she greeted over her shoulder. "I have to do something before school today. Didn't I tell you?"
Mrs Takenouchi frowned, failing to recall. "Oh, maybe you did," She finally said. "Well, have a nice day."
"You too mom," Sora chirped and left.
The weather was bright and mild outside. Only whispers of clouds could be seen in any direction, but this did little to raise Sora's mood. It may have had something to do with the fact that the streets were relatively empty right now. It was almost a reflection of her own mental state. She had been isolating herself over the last couple of days. She knew that everyone had noticed but still couldn't tell them why. She tried telling herself there was no need to feel so defeated. Not until she knew for sure.
Rather than take the direct route to school, she turned off in the opposite direction. She had to stop by the store. A store no one she knew used.
The banging on the door got louder. "Matt! Get up for school!" Ishida Yamato groaned a defiant response. "Come on, you'll be late."
"Alright," he shouted back in defeat and spun to sit up on his bed. "I'm up."
His father seemed content enough that the sixteen year old boy had answered and walked off as Matt gathered his senses in the dark. He threw his weight forward and used it to pull himself up and find the light switch.
With a dim glow now illuminating the room, Matt rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and checked himself in the mirror. 'Not pretty,' he told himself. He looked down at the desk at the foot of the mirror. Homework he had barely managed to finish still left out from the midnight hours of last night. What time had he gotten to sleep again? He picked up his watch lying by his textbooks and held up to his face, still not able to focus too far away from him.
"Oh, give me a break," he complained. He was late already, what did his dad mean by going to be? He grabbed his school uniform from the back of his chair.
Sora stood outside of the store, building up the will to go in. 'Would you rather find out the hard way?' She asked herself. She swallowed hard. 'No,' she told herself. You have to do this. She took a step. That was easy. The next came just as easy and she found herself almost charging inside. Her determined pace took her through the store at a pace. Her speed was suddenly killed as she came face to face with the shelf she was looking for.
She spun on her heel. Not with the marching speed she had suddenly managed to give herself a few moments ago. She turned so slowly, her body almost seemed to be resisting her. Slowly and mechanically, her arm raised to pick up one of the boxes. She retrieved one of the packets and held it down at her waist. There she stared at it. Her eyes didn't focus on any part of the packaging in particular, they wandered all over.
A bell ringing snapped her from the daze she caught herself in. She looked at the young girl running the cash register. She must have been roughly two years older than Sora. Sora wasn't quite sure why that made this trip worse. Did it really matter who she paid? As long as it was nobody she knew. Sora tightened her jaw, she felt it starting to shake and walked towards the counter to pay up.
She put the box down, hoping to catch as little attention as possible. She felt her eyes straining but she held herself from breaking down right there. The girl behind the counter looked at the box and then Sora. She gave Sora a sorry look and asked for the money. Sora paid quickly and picked the item up.
"Good luck," the girl said softly as Sora left. Sora looked back and smiled weakly as she tucked the box into her satchel.
"Thanks," she croaked and quickly left.
Sora was now half running to class. Her detour had made her later than expected for school. Turning another corner, she crashed into another student coming the other way. Both muttered their apologies as they righted themselves. Itagi Suzue smiled back at Sora. "Are you ok?"
"Yeah, sorry. I have to go, late for class," Sora said hurriedly.
"Likewise," Suzue replied. "Sora, you dropped something."
Suzue went to pick up the box that was the cause of Sora's tardiness. Sora snatched it from Suzue's reach and quickly put it out of sight, hoping Suzue didn't get a good look at it. "Thanks, see you." She took off.
Suzue watched Sora run off. 'Was that what I think it was?' She asked herself. Just then, the bell rang to signal the start of class.
Sora got to her classroom the same time as her teacher. "Running later Miss Takenouchi?" He asked in an innocent tone that suggested he wasn't accusing in anyway.
"Gomen," Sora replied. "I had an errand to run before coming to school." She opened the class room door. A dim sound of chatter suddenly cut short as they both entered. She took the only empty seat at the front of the class. Matt was watching her from the back of the classroom, looking rather concerned. She flashed him a smile as she tucked her hair behind her ear and sat down.
Matt frowned as he watched Sora make her hasty entrance along with Tomoe-sensei. She smiled at him briefly. It seemed duller than usual, as if she was putting it on. He felt a twist in his stomach as he processed that thought. 'Nothing I can do now,' he said to himself. He sat back in a comfortable position. He'd have time to catch up with her after class.
He looked over to his right. Yagami Taichi was slung back in his chair, twiddling a pencil between his index finger and thumb. A doodle was evident on his notepad and the auburn haired boy was already starting to expand the babyish looking dinosaur into something else, as of yet, undetermined. He caught Matt's glance and gave a nod. Matt nodded back with a slight grin on his face. They both prepared to let the class pass by inventing new ways of making it look like they were listening to Tomoe-sensei. Both boys had agreed a long time ago, history wasn't a subject either of them held of any particular importance.
The bell rang. 'Finally,' Matt sighed. He shut his textbook in an over exaggerated motion and unslung his bag from the back of his chair. He got up and put his things away quickly, hoping to catch up with Sora. So far, today hadn't started off that well. He knew he'd be told about his 'sub-standard' essay he was up all night working on, he had maths next and band practice had been cancelled. So far he had little methods available to him where he could unwind and relax. Thankfully, Sora's company alone did a lot to calm him.
When he looked up, he found it was too late. She had slipped out of class before he had even noticed. He turned to Tai. "Did you see Sora leave?"
Tai looked over to her desk and found it empty. "No, what's her hurry?"
"No idea," Matt answered. "I'm going to try and catch her up, see you in class."
With that, he slung his bag over his shoulder and barged his way through the class and out into the hallway crowds to look for her. Somehow she had managed to slip completely out of sight. Matt used his height advantage to peer over the crowd of students filling the corridors, but Sora was nowhere to be seen. He wandered about looking for her but even as the crowds thinned, he had no luck. The bell went again to signal classes resuming. Matt scowled and turned off for maths.
Classes ended for recess. Inoue Yolei had already begun her morning rounds. Darting between the social circles that had begun to form outside, she prowled for gossip to keep up on. Yolei had become one of those people who was generally liked by everyone but never had an attachment any group in particular. In fact the only people she chose to sit down with was the closely knit digidestined.
Suddenly her sixth sense kicked in and her ears pricked. A blip turned up on her radar. She could tell somebody was talking about somebody, somewhere close. It was an internal instinct. Her eyes carefully surveyed the school grounds. Itagi Suzue and friends were in a circle as she bowed in and talked in a hushed manner. The girls about her sharply breathed in as she went on.
'Bingo,' Yolei thought with some satisfaction and crossed the school yard. "Hey, Suzue-chan!" She said brightly as she approached.
The girls broke off from their intense and whispered chatter and Yolei approached. Suzue smiled back. "Yolei-chan, how are you?"
"Oh you know, the same as always. Mom and Dad keep giving me extra hours at the store these days but they never extend my allowance for it," Yolei talked animatedly. "What's the word with you guys?"
"Oh nothing much," Suzue dismissed. "Did you want to join us? Ami was just mentioning the surprise mock exam she had in biology."
"Surprise tests, already?" Yolei burst. "But exams aren't for another six months." Ami shrugged. Yolei expected more of a conversation from the girls but they seemed to be content in giving her the silent treatment. It was an awkward few moments of silence. "Well, I'm going to try and find Kari. If you see her, let her know I'm looking for her."
"Sure thing," Suzue replied. "See you around Yolei."
Yolei walked off. She couldn't see over her shoulder but knew the girls had gone back to their hushed conversation. That was weird. She was rarely ousted from conversation like that. Usually when this happened there was huge gossip in the works. Usually involving her friends. She figured it was time to put her detective hat on and set up some interviews, so to speak. Come to think of it, Sora had been acting strange lately, avoiding people and keeping to herself a lot. Yolei ducked inside. Most likely, Sora would have found a classroom to be alone in. Sulking in the bathroom was a real easy way of getting noticed.
Just then she could swear she had distinctly heard Sora's name mentioned. She peeked her head around the corner and found someone else talking lowly. They noticed Yolei a few feet away from them and went silent all of a sudden. Yolei frowned. She would need to find Sora quickly.
He heard another hustle of whispers as he walked down the school halls, feeling a thousand eyes upon him. He couldn't tell what it was about; frankly he didn't care what it was. They could idly banter all they liked for all he cared, he just wished they'd make an attempt to do it behind his back so he could carry on pretending not to notice. But they all seemed to wait until they were just in his peripheral vision before covering their hands and leaning to the one person next to them. Ultimately making sure he knew they were talking about him but wouldn't dream of saying anything to his face.
This had been going on all morning and it was now recess. He stalked the hallways for Sora, hoping her company would cheer him up from this dismal mood he was in. He was purely confident she would. She was usually all he needed in the day to make it worth getting up.
Brushing his long blonde hair behind his ear, Matt quickened his pace in search for her and just as he rounded the corner, he crashed into someone, knocking them straight to the floor. He looked down with an instinctive hand to help them up. Delightfully it was her.
"Sora!" He stammered, "I'm so sorry, here." She scurried her arms about the floor before accepting his help.
"Thanks," she said with a shy smile, still dazzling as every other she possessed. "I can't hang around right now Matt, can I catch up with you later?"
"Sure, I guess," he answered rather disappointed. She took off rather quickly.
"Thanks, see you around," she said over her shoulder as she hurried off down the corridor. The whispers intensified after their brief liaison. With a scowl at all of them they turned silent and stared at him.
Now determined to either find out what was going on or find somebody who was as clueless as he was to enjoy a normal conversation, he spun on his heel and set about finding either Yolei or Izzy, whoever was in the computer room at this time.
Thankfully, Izzy was in the computer room doing whatever extra work he did normally. Frankly, Matt had hoped to speak with Yolei and get an answer to the whispers that were constantly at his heels, silently gnawing away at him.
"Morning Matt," Izzy greeted in an automated way as he typed furiously away. "What brings you here?"
"Peace and quiet," Matt answered passively slinking around to Izzy's position and glimpsing the work he was doing, hoping he might understand.
"You would be referring to the rumours that are spreading like a grass fire throughout the school?" Izzy questioned.
"Damn!" Matt cursed. "Even you know?"
"Only that there is one about you and Sora, I wasn't told anything else." Matt pulled up a seat and sat on it backwards leaning his arms on the back of the chair and his head on his arms, continuing to watch Izzy work. "Naturally I tried to get more detail but nobody wants to talk to anyone who talks with you or Sora, even Yolei's cut out of the lines of communication."
"Must be big."
"You have a clean conscience at the moment?" Izzy asked, turning from his work. Matt raised his eyebrows at the boy. "Well it could only be something Sora knows and you don't then."
"She was acting kind of funny when I saw her this morning," Matt added. At this point he hadn't perked up. "Come to think of it, she's been a bit off the last couple of days."
Things were going from bad to worse as Tai stormed into the room.
"What's all this talk about Matt and Sora?" He asked Izzy, not seeing his blonde haired pal behind the row of computers.
"That's what we're trying to figure out," Izzy replied. Tai punched a fist into his open palm.
"Man! I am this close to getting the third years up against the wall and-."
"Forget it Tai," Matt interrupted. "Its not worth it."
The brown haired kid was only mildly surprised of Matt being out of sight.
"So you don't know?" he pulled up a chair next to his best friend. Matt shook his head in his arms.
"I saw Sora for five seconds today and she took off before I could even say anything."
"Want me to try and talk to her?"
"That's OK, she'll come to me when she's ready." It was silent for a few seconds.
"I'll just try and talk to her."
The creaking door was opened once again and all heads turned to see Joe walk in. "What's all the hush about?" Tai reached out and pulled a seat into the mini circle they were making.
"That's what today's meeting is called for," Tai said mockingly. "What does Sora know that's got the school in an uproar."
"So its about Sora?"
"I got no idea what its all about," Matt answered. "I don't get what could be wrong. We've only been dating for a few weeks now."
Yolei burst through the door and after a brief scan hung her mouth wide open looking how to start her opening sentence.
"Just close then open and make sounds Yolei," Matt responded. "That's how most people talk."
"Ah, Tai," she started piecing something together. "I need your help with something, me and Kari need your help with something." Tai cocked an eyebrow.
"What's wrong with Kari?" Yolei just flapped her hand urgently, beckoning him to come.
"No time for Q and A," she answered. "Come on, come on, come on!" Once in arms reach, Yolei grabbed Tai by the sleeve and yanked him out of the room faster than any object known to man.
"She knows something," Joe said quickly.
Matt got up and paced towards the door, "she better." He almost growled as he followed them. Joe thought about following him but instead chose to sit by Izzy and look over his latest project into probing the mass of information that was the digital world.
Matt stormed down the corridors, the bodies gathered there only a blur to him at the moment. The only use they proved was to funnel him to the centre of attention, no doubt where either Sora, Yolei, Tai or all three were holed up. He turned a corner and saw the guiding wall of bodies focusing on the girl's bathroom.
Tai stood half way through the door, a stunned look on his face. It seemed to take minutes for his head to spur round and his gaze to meet Matt's glare. Then the brown haired boy snapped back to reality, he held two hands in front of him to try and detain Matt.
"Don't bother trying Tai, I want to know what the hell's going on!" Matt growled.
"Hold fire Matt, trust me on this one, you do not want to just rush in right now," Tai answered, holding Matt firmly by the shoulders. Matt's glance went into the bathroom where he saw nothing but the wall of a cubicle and then back to Tai, whose fixed glare meant what he said. "I know you must be pissed right now because you want to know what's going on." Tai started. Matt exploded.
"I am pissed because my girlfriend would rather tell everyone else in the world her problems before me!" The blonde haired boy's face went into deep crimson from anger.
"Well doesn't that tell you how god damn serious it is!" Tai snapped back. "And another thing, I should kick your ass for even making this situation!"
"For making this situation? What's that supposed to mean?" Matt looked at Tai's fists, now grabbing his shirt, knuckles white. Then with a deadly look to equal his best friend's he said deep and menacingly. "Let go Tai."
This just forced Tai to grip harder and stare deeper into his friend's deadly eyes with a deep rising anger. The two at a stand off for an eternity looked right through each other to their deepest inner selves and right back to the surface of each other's skin again. Finally a voice from the confines of the bathroom spoke softly.
"It's OK Tai, let him in." Sora spoke with a quivering voice. Matt's attention turned past Tai, who in turn continued to glare at his best friend. From round the corner a timid Kari and Yolei walked by and stopped at the two boys. They each gave a worrying look at Matt and tried to hide it with a supportive smile before turning to Tai.
Yolei gave him a sharp elbow to the ribs, and both girls grabbed him and took him away. As Matt watched them leave, he became aware of the crowd around him. Several students watching open mouthed, then in the hallway the vice principal. The first to react the stout woman boomed.
"OK, everybody to class, break time is over!" Hundreds of bodies shuffled away and she zeroed down on Matt.
Not being held back now, Matt darted into the bathroom and shut the door behind him to the insistent thumping and pushes of the teacher on the other side, her voice shouted through the wood but he blocked the words out. He quickly found the latch and shut the door firmly so he could walk away without disruption.
His shoes clicked loudly against the cold, hard floor as he took long and heavy steps through the room. Sora's sobbing could be heard somewhere at the far side of the room. Each step he took towards the sound weighed heavier as it became apparent he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know what was going on.
He came to the second to last cubicle, the door wide open and a carpet of tissue littered the floor, his body pivoted slowly and turned to face a mass weeping body, retreated to the seat of the toilet. Light auburn hairs covering a mixture of bright red and tear-ridden skin that in turn slowly looked up at Matt.
He kept a neutral face as he looked down at her. Something told him he should have been warm and supportive but he didn't know what he was facing yet. They both looked at each other for several minutes in total silence before Matt broke down. He couldn't take it any more. "Tell me what I'm supposed to say Sora."
"I don't know," she sniffled. "I was hoping you could tell me the same thing." Matt knelt down on one knee to see look at her in the eyes. They looked tired, desperate and despairing. They had a red tint around the edges, showing the irritation they had been subjected to by tissue, sleeves or the back of Sora's hand. Whatever she could find to rub them dry lately.
He looked down at the box on the floor. It had been torn open in desperation. A cold and icy feeling erupted in the pit of his stomach upon looking at the label. "What's this doing here?" He asked with some dread in his voice. She couldn't answer, all she could do was breath. She began to hyperventilate. Matt held her by the shoulders, then hugged her tightly. He hoped this would pacify her enough to give a straight answer, but in truth he was suddenly as scared as she imagined she was right now. Eventually she started to calm down a bit as he felt her grip him back. She nuzzled in his embrace. He let go and looked at her with the most serious demeanour he had ever mustered.
"Come on Sora, just tell me," he pleaded her. Just then the vice-principal banged on the door again, reminding them of her presence.
She broke eye contact with him and took a deep, sobering breath. Finally she spoke meekly. "I'm late."
"Sora, no class now is going to matter this point in time."
"No Matt, you don't understand," she said right back and looked back up at him. "I'm late." She said with emphasis boring a meaning right through to Matt. His jaw hung low as if it had been hammered down and something and sent his mind reeling.
"What? Wh-? How?" He stammered. She looked dumbfounded at the question.
"Last Saturday!" She cocked an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you don't know how it works."
"I know that!" He shot back, "we used protection didn't we? Just how?" She produced a box from the folds of her arms and threw it at his feet.
"400 lines of fine print that's how!" She shouted back. He looked at the open box of condoms she had unleashed at him. "Bastards." She broke into a cry again.
Time stood still for Ishida Yamato as he conflicted with himself. What was he going to do? He was too young to be a father, and yet Sora was telling him she was pregnant. He couldn't bring an answer to his chaotic mind at this point and too many questions, possibilities and feelings spun through his brain, tearing him apart in a matter of seconds until he almost forgot where he was. An involuntary reaction to all this suddenly snapped him back to reality as he felt an acidic viscous liquid rising in his throat.
With lightning speed, he bolted in to the cubicle next to them and vomited. After he felt he was done he hit the flush and walked across to the basin, washing water in his face and looking at himself in the mirror. In the space of five minutes, he had turned into something that looked much like a zombie.
Just in front of him, a small plastic rod rested on the side of the basin. He didn't take in the details of it. It didn't seem to matter right now.
"Matt?" Sora asked softly. "Are you OK?" He felt his tongue was too large and swollen to speak a reply but managed something anyway.
"I will be." His voice felt dead as he spoke. He looked in the mirror in front of him. He looked worse than he did when he woke up. He tried breathing deeply but felt his lungs collapse quicker with every attempt to keep them regular.
Without thinking, a notion that seemed too far out of his capability right now, he turned and fled for the door. He released the latch and whipped it open. Ms. Kakashi was on the other side ready to fly into a tirade about his recent reaction. He didn't have time to stand and listen. He pushed past her and began to run. He ran down the corridors, away from everything. He had to get away. He heard Ms. Kakashi yelling at him to come back. At this point he didn't know if he ever would.
Having watched Matt Ishida flee from the school grounds, Vice-principal Kakashi had to find out why and stormed into the bathroom looking for a cause. She was surprised to see Sora Takenouchi sitting in a cubicle in tears. So many tissues covering the floor and then she pried a box from the layers of paper and with one glance dropped her anger. With a sorrow filled voice she just looked at the student. "Oh Sora."
The brown haired girl rushed into her arms and broke down in more tears as all the teacher could do was hold her. "Please don't tell my dad," she said through her tears and the teacher's bosom.