Title: Bearing Blue
Chapter one: Pain-bringing Blossom
"He is wealthy, he is intelligent, and he is powerful. Therefore, you need not to be any of these things."
Megumi recited the words carefully as she combed the tangles from my hair. I'd heard them many a time over the past few months, but only now did they seem to finally sink in.
"What you need to learn, Kaoru, is to speak when spoken to, prepare meals, mother his child, always remaining stylish and graceful. That is your job."
I was motionless on the tatami, overcome by emotions, but yet unable to put them into words. My caretaker, Megumi pulled tightly on my hair to fasten it into a bun, and only then did I lift my eyes from the floor. Smiling, she lifted a round mirror to show off her handiwork, but when I looked, I didn't recognize the girl staring back at me. In the glass I saw a creature – a pale faced, wide-eyed weakling that was nothing like the person I knew myself to be.
"Look alive, Kaoru," Megumi nudged my shoulder. I knew she was hoping the playful gesture would put some life back into my eyes, but I could only manage to stare at my ghostly reflection until she set down the mirror.
"If only I could die," I murmured, and I could feel Megumi eye me sharply.
"Dear Gods, I've never known you to be so dramatic," she pulled a small, black case from her sleeve and began to apply blush to my cheeks.
"Hn." I made a soft grunt in my throat.
Megumi, who had aided in caring for me since birth, was a no nonsense woman and had my demeanor totally pinned. Usually, I would have happily ribbed her back, laughing and smiling with energy unbecoming of most girls my age. However, for the past month I'd been lifeless – barely speaking and simply going through the motions of everyday life. It seemed like only yesterday when my ailing father had called me to his bedside and made me swear to uphold the promise he'd made to my mother.
'She wanted you to be well taken care of…' he'd rasped in my ear.
I clenched my fists in my lap as I remembered, wrinkling the smooth fabric of my wedding kimono. My father, a man who had once been so strong, lay fragile like a child, barely able to clasp my hand as he spoke.
'You were to be wed before our passing, but such a thing has come unexpectedly.'
As I reminisced, Megumi continued to tend to my face, brushing a soft, pink color against the apples of my cheeks.
'You have a suitor, Kaoru. Please…for the sake of your mother…for the sake of your father…'
Tears had slipped down my cheeks then, but now, now I had no more to spill. Ever since that day, I'd gone through with the preparations during the day while crying to sleep at night. There were no more tears left to cry – just a numb, hollow feeling left behind.
'Be wed. Be wed and happy.'
I started to bite down on my lip at the thought of those words, but Megumi took my chin in her hand sharply. Before I could protest, she smoothed a thin layer of red gloss on my parted lips.
"No smudging," she warned, but there was a soft look in her eye.
I turned away to keep my own eyes from misting over. How father? I thought. How can I be happy?
The planning had taken place in the open, but no one had ever bothered to allow me to meet the groom. There were always excuses of business and travel, but not having a face to put to a name only made me uneasy. I wanted to believe my mother and father loved me enough to choose a kind suitor, but at the same time wasn't naïve enough to think that marriages were simply about love. Especially with one in a situation as I. The Kamiya family had been powerful in the fishing industry for years, and I heard whispers of my soon to be husband's family ties to the rice industry.
Surely, it was a match made in agricultural heaven.
At first, I thought I could keep the promise to myself, but upon the death of my parents, the remainder of the Kamiya family made it known that I was not to be left to live on my own. I would not bring shame upon the family by remaining unwed. And yet, I rebelled. For the first few weeks I retaliated with anger and stubborn pride. But still, planning moved on. Relatives –his and mine – chattered behind my back, made preparations, exchanged promises and loans. It wasn't long before I was caught up in tea ceremonies and cooking classes, browbeaten and guilted into submission.
At the age of nineteen, I was to become a bride. When first announced at 18, Megumi begged the marriage to be held off as long as possible, but with most girls marrying at 16, the stalling was shameful. But on top of it all, the groom's stepmother was insistent. She, being his only living blood, demanded wedding be done as soon as possible before her own passing.
"His last name…" I furrowed my brow in an unladylike fashion as I racked my brain for the answer. "I can't remember. What is his last name?"
Megumi sighed a little, most likely at my forgetfulness, and sat down to face me head on.
"Seta." She dabbed a bit of wax on her finger and smoothed a piece of hair off my face. "He is the only living heir to his family's fortune, and such prosperity is due to the family's flourishing rice business."
"Ah," I mumbled. My voice sounded husky to my ears, and I knew I wouldn't last long. Megumi seemed to hear it to, but said nothing.
Without warning, the shoji behind us slid open and a thin, mousy looking woman leaned in. It was one of the groom's servants.
"Is she ready?" she asked, without an ounce of cheer. Megumi turned to me for an answer, but before she could stand, I grasped her wrist.
"Please Megumi…I can't…" I bit my lip, trying not to cry. My voice was now barely above a whisper. Megumi gave me a stern look.
"I have faith that you will be taken care of." She took both of my hands in hers and forced me to stand. Still, I quivered.
"But…if I am mistaken," she heaved a sigh. "If anything ever happens that causes you to fear for your life…you come here. I will take care of the house until things are consolidated between you and Seta-san."
"Megumi…what if he hits me?" I blurted the question, eyes wide. My heart began to race and all of a sudden, things began to feel much more real.
Megumi spoke softly as not to let the servant hear, and straightened the bow on my obi.
"You are a woman…you will stay strong," she said, but I didn't understand.
Megumi sighed aloud, "If he hits you with an open hand, bite your lip and take it. If he hits you with a closed hand anywhere…you run away as fast as you can."
She wrapped my slim fingers around a pure white paper fan with a pink flower in the middle. It matched the rich silk of my wedding kimono.
I wanted to cry out, remembering how the groom had sent it for me without the traditional meeting. Everything so impersonal, everything so fast. What kind of man could he be?
Megumi placed a silver flower pin in my hair to hold the bun stiff and smiled, her eyes wet.
"You look beautiful," she whispered and hugged me tightly to her.
"And if he doesn't think so?" My voice was tired as I didn't return the hug. Instead, I stared blankly out the door.
"Then he is a fool." Megumi let me go, and then squeezed my hand tightly, leading me outside. I bowed my head and closed my eyes for a moment as I walked, my eyelashes shimmering with the reflection of the blue eye shadow. Outside the mansion, several women gasped at me as I passed. Men stopped what they were doing to watch as I was helped into the carriage waiting at the gate.
"Will you come with me?" I pleaded.
Megumi merely smiled and shook her head. "You know that's not possible Kaoru, but please remember you have my love."
When the driver took his seat and shut the door, I began to panic.
"Megumi!" I cried out, trying not to let my voice break as I waved.
The carriage started, and soon Megumi, along with the life I had once known, was completely out of sight.
"Soujirou-sama will be pleased with you madam." The driver tilted his head back and gave a little smile I did not return.
When he looked to me again, his silver eyes shone with concern.
"You will be good for him,: hw said simply and turned back to the road as he pulled up against a large house.
'His name is Seta Soujirou.' I kept his name in my thoughts so I would know how to address him.
Though I was used to living in a spacious home, Soujirou's mansion was amazingly large, spanning acres of field. I could spy a koi pond in the backyard and flowers, though a bit overgrown, took over the front path. Lanterns were hung everywhere imaginable, most likely for my appearance. Though I was reluctant to go anywhere but home, the driver helped me out of the carriage once more.
Before I had time to truly take anything in, I noticed a short and shadowed figure standing in the doorway. The driver bowed and the figure nodded, allowing him to step away, whispering good luck in my ear. Suddenly, the figure stepped out from the shadows, causing me to take a step back. An aging woman with braided long, brown hair stood in front of me. She was wearing an expensive green kimono, sparkled with silver that matched her clear grey eyes.
"My stepson is in waiting for you," she spoke as though in a hurry. "I am pleased to see you are above average in looks, though your eyes seem too large for your face." She said in a snap.
I touched my face self-consciously.
"Aa," I said quickly, but clenched a fist in reflex.
"You really are lucky your family has money." The woman said quickly and drew me inside. Flowers scattered the large tatami room and it smelt like real lavender. Though the scent reminded me of my mother, I didn't have to dwell on it. The Shinto priest stood awaiting my presence and gave me a silent nod.
I stood, unsure of what to do, but frozen completely when I got my first glance at the groom. He was sitting, but stood immediately as he saw me. He was a good six inches taller than me and I was startled as I saw just how handsome. He smiled and it caught me completely off guard. I took a step forward and it was then that I tripped on the fabric of my kimono. His stepmother caught me by the elbow and shot me a glare.
Cheeks flaming, I bowed in front of my 'almost husband.' He returned it and our eyes met again. His were a deep blue that matched my own, and his neat black hair fell carefully into place the moment he tilted his head with a smile.
I felt dumb, but could only stare. Before Soujirou, the only experience I'd had with the opposite sex were the few, bratty young men my father often trained at the dojo. And none of them were as nice to look at as him. Though Soujirou was so slim and quiet, it seemed to me that he was almost… normal. He wasn't the burly, arrogant man I'd had nightmares about. Instead, Soujirou appeared quite…simple.
And yet the moment he smiled, I saw something I wish I hadn't. There was loneliness, a quiet desire for some sort of emotion that I didn't want to give him. An emotion I couldn't give him. I tore my eyes away and instead focused on the Shinto priest. We left the room together for a moment as he prepared, but were careful not to speak.
The Shinto cleansed and blessed the 4 corners of the room and while we stood, began covering the floor with rice paper. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears as Soujirou and I knelt before him, and softly, the Shinto began to recite prayers. This was it, I thought. It was happening, and there was no turning back.
I bit my lower lip and my hands trembled. The priest set a smooth, white lacquered cup in my hands and I nearly spilt sake all over the floor with my trembling. Soujirou, spying me from the corner of his eye, gave a gentle smile. I knew it was to reassure me, but instead, I felt a cold chill run through my body. All of a sudden, I couldn't hear what the priest was saying. I was going through the motions again, and felt myself sinking into the floor.
Together, Soujirou and I sipped of the three lacquered cups to symbolize luck and happiness and to finally solemnize the marriage. The priest said a few more words and it was over.
Just like that, done.
I set down the last cup and bowed my head from Soujirou, hoping he didn't want to do anything as silly as kissing me.
"Let us leave the two in peace." The Shinto bowed and left the room. Soujirou's stepmother gave us both a dark look and followed the Shinto out, leaving me sitting awkwardly on the floor next to my new husband.
I kept my head down and bit my lips together. The wedding wasn't anything near what I'd dreamed of as a child. No bounty of food and flowers, no celebration, no parents… no love. I clenched my hands together to keep from fuming out loud.
"Kaoru," a warm pressure on my shoulder shocked me out of my daze.
Quickly, I turned and found Soujirou standing, eyes-closed, smiling down at me.
"Come. I will show you the house." He extended his hand for me and I stared at it for a moment before letting him help me to my feet.
I let his hand go immediately afterward, but he didn't seem to notice how eager I was to get away from him. Soujirou walked ahead of me in strides longer than my own and I tried to move quickly in the kimono to catch up to him. He didn't seem to be used to the presence of the opposite sex either, I noted bitterly.
"Oof!" Soujirou stopped abruptly and I ran into his back. My cheeks burned red with embarrassment, but at the same time I seized up, afraid of a physical reaction.
"Gomen Soujirou-sama!" I cried, hiding my face from his. He looked me over as if puzzled, and then smiled, closing his eyes again.
"Such formalities!" He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly, and chuckled. "Soujirou is fine, Kaoru-chan."
I bristled a little at the familiar tone he chose to adopt with me, but at the risk of offending, took his hand as he offered it once more. Quiet settled in again, but some reason, the heavy feeling in my heart began to lift. The sensations were scaring me, but being in the mansion gave me an inexplicable feeling of comfort.
No, I fought to regain myself. I don't want to be here. I want to go back home. I can't believe my parents would do this to me! I've never even met this man before!
"A-a," I managed to stammer out as Soujirou lead me farther back into the mansion. We passed through yet another seating area before finally coming to a pause before a large garden area. Through a half open shoji I could spy an enormous pond of fish, several patches of lilies and other exotic flowers, and one large sakura tree, shedding its beautiful pink blossoms. Though the door was half spread, I longed to step through and see the whole thing.
"Would you like to go outside?" Soujirou gestured with his free hand. He started to touch my shoulder, but I shifted away.
"N-no." I stammered out the lie. Tough I was desperate to see more, there was no way I could enjoy it… with him.
For a moment, Soujirou eyed me curiously, but then shrugged to himself. I was thankful. The last thing I wanted to deal with was a pushy man. Together, we went through the rest of the rooms – dining, tearoom, and another sitting before stepping into a dim hallway towards the back of the mansion. I held my breath as he lit a candle on the wall and slid back the shoji.
I knew it was coming, but at the same time, didn't want to face the reality.
"This is our room." Soujirou placed a hand on the small of my back before I could move away and guided me inside.
It was exceptionally large, but I could hardly pay attention to any of the furnishings. Only one thing caught my eye.
"If you don't like the way it looks," Soujirou sounded a bit awkward as I stood without speaking. "Feel free to redecorate."
I barely heard him. Hands folded in front of me; I could only stare dumbly at the single futon. The top sheets were blue and strangely, made me wish I were home, back where my sheets were just plain white. I wrung my hands a little and nodded stiffly.
"Well…" Soujirou cleared his throat. "Ah… selections of kimonos have been purchased for you. They are in this closet." He took wide steps around me and opened the large closet to my left. At seeing the wide array of clothing, I couldn't restrain my gasp. There were even shoes, parasols, fans and other accessories. Some of the styles of clothing I had never seen in my life, and many I'd only heard about from other girls gossip of Europe and America.
"Th-thank you." I managed to choke. Soujirou hung his head for a moment, and then looked back up at me. He still hand a smile on his lips, but it was strange. The more I stared, the more I found it hard to look at.
"S-soujirou-sama?" I slipped back into the comfortable honorific.
"I'm sorry, you know." His voice was quiet. "For all of this."
I furrowed my brow, waiting for an explanation, but nothing came. Instead, Soujirou lit another candle on a chest of drawers without speaking and made his leave. I looked away, feeling guilty, but said nothing as Soujirou exited.
It was getting late. I fastened the wire latch on the door as soon as he shut it, and leaned up against the unfamiliar walls. I was alone at last, but it wasn't the feeling I'd longed for. Standing there in the dim, empty bedroom, still fastened tightly into my wedding kimono, loneliness began to settle in. And as horrified as I was, something inside told me that I wasn't the only one going through shock. Soujirou hadn't had much choice in the matter either. It was no secret we were only wed for money and in hopes that I would bear his son to become heir to both fortunes – his rice business, and the Kamiya family fishing industry.
We were in the same situation…only it seemed Soujirou was actually trying to make the best of things. Clutching my hands over my breast, I glanced at the futon.
"I just can't do this."
A/N: Omg it's… the same story again! Lol, reading it over I realized just how bad this thing was, but hey, it was years ago, and I love seeing all the supportive comments and even criticisms from you guys. You're the people who have helped me grow as a writer, and I can't even express how grateful and lucky I feel have people like you who think I'm doing something right! Anyway, I felt like I owed people a better, edited (and better researched) version of this story, so I hope you enjoy it all over again!