Fear of Ghosts
Chapter 3 (for real)
All Ghosts Die At Some Point
Perhaps I owe an explanation for that crack!chapter that I posted previously. It's been a few years. You've probably grown up. Go take a second look at my story for yourself. It's emo. Incredibly emo.
I grew up too, and I realized that it was horribly, horribly emo. And kind of bad; it was very flowery and long-winded.
Evidently, though, I hadn't grown up enough, because I thought it would be amusing to post a chapter that made absolutely no sense at all. But you know, another year has passed. I've matured some more, though maybe still not enough. Either way, I now present to you the real final chapter of the trilogy known as Fear of Ghosts. Have fun.
The door screeches behind me as I slide it shut. A flying mass of black hair and pale skin has already thrown arms around me.
"Where in the world have you been?" my girlfriend asks. It's an empty question, we both know what day it is, but that doesn't mean she is able to keep the hint of accusation and questioning out of her tone.
"I ran into someone today," I respond, and frown immediately. I've never given her an explanation before, and I don't know what is prompting me to do so now.
My girlfriend's face fills with surprise, but she quickly grabs hold of the opening and asks, "Who?"
"Just," my hands fiddle around with the pendant on my neck, and she glances at my mangled hands, "just someone from the past."
She seems torn between asking me further questions and tending to my hands. Finally she reaches for my hands, running a smooth thumb over a scraped knuckle and saying softly, "Here, let me take care of those for you."
Briefly I am reminded of why I am dating her in the first place, but nevertheless I clutch them against myself.
"No," I say, "I can tend to them myself."
"But thank you for the offer," I add hastily, noticing the hurt and shock in her expression.
She is slow to respond, and an awkward silence stretches out between us. "Sure," she says slowly, at last. The silence envelopes the atmosphere again, and at length I say lightly, "So what's for dinner?"
She shrugs. "I don't feel like cooking today," she says, "maybe we should go out to eat?" She is wearing charcoal-colored sweatpants and a white t-shirt with a pink bunny on it.
"Yeah," I respond, "yeah, we could go do that."
Neither of us make a move. I fidget nervously, my hands twitching, keeping my gaze to the corner, where a spider web has mysteriously appeared. I've never been very good at situations like this. I feel a cool hand on my cheek and I stand still. It turns my head so that I am staring into my girlfriend's dark brown eyes, my own reflection caught in her pupils. She leans forward and kisses me softly, strawberry lip gloss on the tip of my tongue – she's always enjoyed using makeup, even when she's at home, and now that I can taste her lip gloss I also notice the fresh coat of mascara she's applied to her eyes – and her arms wrap around me, her fingers brushing against the small of my back. I respond in kind, kissing her delicately, and suddenly she is attacking me with her lips ferociously, trailing sticky lip gloss down my neck. I stumble backwards, and together we knock open the whitewashed door and collapse on the striped blue-and-green covers of the bed.
Later, as I trace her jawline, she begins, "That person you met today…"
I'm surprised and stop caressing her. "Yeah?"
"Did you use to love her?"
I don't know how to respond to that. No would be a blatant lie, and yes would imply that I don't love Konoka anymore, and that is an egregious lie too. I say nothing instead, and resume trailing my finger down her jaw again.
She takes my silence as an answer, too, and smiles wryly before kissing me softly on the cheek.
"Goodnight," she whispers, and flips over so that she is facing away from me. I try to spoon her, but she squirms away, allowing me only to hold her hand.In the morning I wake up to the smell of devil's tails. My girlfriend is sitting at the table in the corner, munching on them and sipping from a bowl of soymilk. She greets me as I stumble over to a chair. The ground is cold on my bare feet.
"I'm moving out in a week," she announces. I stop stretching my hand towards the devil's tails and blink at her in surprise. She shrugs.
"You should call your old friend up," she says. In her face is resignation. I feel horrible.
"Listen," I start, "I haven't talked to her for years, and-" She cuts me off.
"You should talk to her then," she says. Her voice is insistent. There is an urgency in there I have never heard before. I stare at her wordlessly. There are bags under her eyes.
"Your breakfast is going to get cold," she says, and avoids my eyes.
I don't know where to start looking for Konoka. Tokyo is too large of a city to look for anything, really, even if you know where to start. Tokyo is where one becomes lost, not where one is found. That's why I started a new life here. It's proving to be a royal pain in the ass right now.
After my morning classes I spend the rest of my day in the university library. It is crammed with students, even though term exams have only been over for a week, and I wait fifteen minutes before I am outfitted with a computer.
The screen flashes at me and I enter my student ID number and password. 1494731, konoka318. I do not use my school account very much.
Once in, I log onto my girlfriend's Facebook account. I do not have one myself; when I said I did not want to be found, I truly meant it. A quick search, 'konoka', reveals thousands of matches, and 'konoka konoemon' is just about as helpful, revealing no one. MySpace does not turn up any information either, just an endless stream of pop-up ads screaming about diet pills and the latest video game consoles, and an embarrassing blast of music that I quickly silence.
My allotted computer time shrivels up and soon enough a library attendant strides over to tell me in a mellow voice that it is someone else's turn on the computer now. I thank her with a smile and don my brown messenger bag. I check out a thin book on tricks for multivariable calculus. I still have a life to lead, after all.
Back at the apartment my girlfriend lounges on the couch and frowns in a way that means I have not been very smart about things. She does that a lot. I collapse next to her and watch the martial arts scene unfolding on the television screen in front of us.
"Why didn't you call any of your old friends instead?" she asks.
"I, I don't really keep in touch with any of them," I reply. Out of the corner of my eye I see her furrow an eyebrow. She has no makeup on today.
"Not a single one? None at all?" she queries. "There isn't anyone you can call up at all? No one you can find easily and just call?" She means them as questions to help me think of people I can contact, but her words are laced with annoyance and frustration at my attitude.
"I'm sorry." It's all I can say. I focus on the roundhouse kick the actor on television is performing as he leaps off the shingled rooftops. His foot is pronated; in a real fight he would break his ankle doing that. But otherwise it looks decent.
"Don't be sorry," she sighs beside me, and rises.
"I'm going to work," she announces, swapping her shorts for a pair of dress pants and shrugging on a black dress shirt and a pea coat. "If you haven't gotten any new leads by the time I come back, I'll take tomorrow off and we'll look for this girl together, okay?"
"I'll find her," I say. She smiles briefly, then slips into her heels and clicks out the door. I sink into the couch for a few minutes before rising.
Finding Konoka really shouldn't be that hard. It is more a matter of swallowing my pride than anything. I dial the number Negi gave me some time ago, the last time I ever saw anyone from my past.
A deepened voice answers the phone, and although the last time we met his voice had cracked and changed already, it still startles me. Somewhere I am still expecting a squeaky child's voice. A childhood.
I had almost forgotten to answer.
"Yes, yes, hi. Umm… This is Sakurazaki Setsuna."
A stint of silence on the other end.
"I'm sorry, who did you say you were?"
"Sakurazaki Setsuna. Is this Negi?"
"Yeah, yeah it is. I… sorry. Hello, Setsuna."
Awkwardness. "Ahh, I'm not really a teacher-type anymore. But um, how are you?"
"Fine, thank you very much. And you?"
We make small talk for a few minutes, until Negi finally gets to the point.
"So, um, what can I do for you?"
"Well," I stumble, feeling a little bit ashamed for no reason at all, "I was wondering if you might have, if you might have… Konoka-san's phone number."
If Negi notices anything strange about the way I say Konoka's name, he makes no mention of it.
"As a matter of fact, I do," he says brightly, a hint of his eagerness to help creeping into his voice. "Her grandfather keeps in regular touch with me. He's still trying to find a suitor for her. Can you believe that? He even tried to set me up with her once I became of age!" Amused laughter bursts out of him, but it abruptly stops. I can almost hear the frown appearing on his face.
Negi attempts a change of subject. "So uh, how's your girlfriend?" he asks. I almost want to laugh. Still tactless. Some things never change.
"She's moving out in a week," I say lightly. This will end the conversation quickly.
"Oh. Um, I'm sorry." He gives me Konoka's phone number and hangs up soon after that.
81359420. I sit at the table frowning at it for what seems like hours. I almost pick up the black handle of the telephone, but I decide to crack open my calculus book instead. I have a problem set due in two days.
At around midnight I hear the lock to the door click. My girlfriend struts in, running a hand through her hair.
"How was work?" I ask absently.
"Same old, same old," she replies, "How did your search go?"
"I have her number," is my answer.
"…But you haven't called it, right?" she asks.
She sighs. "You're such a coward, Setsuna-chan."
I have nothing to say to that.
"I'm going to bed," she announces, "If by the time you come to bed you have no new information, you're sleeping on the sofa tonight."
I am used to far worse sleeping conditions, but she doesn't know that. Still…
I glance down at my problem set. Two more problems to go. I can do those tomorrow.
I do not pick up the receiver for another half hour. When I finally do, the tone I hear rends the silence I have been sitting in apart. It is unsettling.
Slowly, I punch the numbers in. The phone begins to ring.
"Moshi moshi, Konoe residence."
It is a deep, decidedly male voice. I'm startled.
"Um, is, uh, Konoe Konoka there?" I stammer, my voice crackling like dried tea leaves.
I can hear the silence on the other end become alert, poised to strike. This man is her bodyguard. I feel waves of hurt wash over me, but I shake them off.
"State your name please," he commands.
"Sakurazaki Setsuna," I say.
Pause. "What number were you in junior high and who was your teacher?"
I'm surprised this guy knows this information about me.
"15, Negi Springfield."
"What do you wish to do with Konoe-sama?"
"Uh, I just want to meet up and talk."
"Konoe-sama has retired for the night. I will relay your message to her, and you may call back tomorr-"
"Wait!" A female voice interrupts the bodyguard. It is Konoka.
"Secchan," she gasps into the phone.
"…Ojou-sama," I say.
We make plans to meet at Takeshi's Café, next to my university, for lunch. Fear grips me as I put down the receiver. I am making a mistake. I know it. My heart beats like a madman. I spend the night staring at the neon green digits of the alarm clock.
The second the sun rises I am off, in my shorts and t-shirt, running. I run without direction, and several times I almost trip over a homeless person. Today is going to be beautiful. I buy some steamed buns on the way home.
My girlfriend has woken up by the time I return home, and after I take a shower we eat in silence. I stare at the rose-tinted models on the calendar next to the dining table, and she stares at her textbook.
"Can I meet her sometime?" she asks, suddenly.
"I… I guess," I respond.
We lapse into silence again. After a few moments she rises to leave for class.
Takeshi's Café is a swank place. Oddly-shaped lamps hang from its ceiling, and its walls are various pastel shades of red. Uncomfortable stainless steel stools are aligned in a semi-circle around the bumblebee yellow countertop, and chairs of the same style are arranged in quartets around goldenrod square and trapezoidal tables. Booths, styled burgundy with yellow paint splashes, align the walls.
The moment I walk in I spot Konoka. She stands out like a sore thumb, her elegant black dress and simple silver chains sucking up the casual chic of the restaurant. She is fiddling with a gold and silver clutch, aristocratic fingers dancing over the embroidery, an amethyst ring twirling in their midst.
I am amazed. This is not Konoka from my childhood, or even Konoka from a few days ago. She sees me pausing at the door. For a moment she hesitates, a look of doubt on her face, but she instantly composes herself again and strides over confidently. Her heels click against the linoleum. There is no trace of the past in her expression.
"Sakurazaki-san," she says cordially. She extends her hand. We are strangers.
I shake it, a little stiffly. She is making me uncomfortable. I am ashamed to admit that I either expected a tearful reunion or else an angry awkwardness with both parties. But not a gorgeously composed woman treating me like an acquaintance she has met for perhaps the third or fourth time.
I feel underdressed.
The waiter, deeming the introductory gestures to be over, briskly leads us to a booth. He sets two metal-rimmed menus down on the table and runs off to another table. A painting adorns the maroon wall next to us, decorated in the same fashion as our seats.
"Jackson Pollock?" I question.
Konoka raises an eyebrow. "Probably not," she says, "But it's similar. It's nice to know you've been reading up on your art history," she says.
"I took a class," I shrug.
Konoka picks up her menu and flips through it. I mimic her actions, although I already know what I am going to order. I don't deviate and try new things very often.
"What sorts of food would you recommend here?" she asks.
I shrug again. "Their burgers and fries are good," I say. "Anything resembling fish I would stay away from."
She squints at the menu for a second longer, then places it down with a sigh. A secretive smile flicks across her face, the hints of it still tugging at the corners of her mouth. She looks far too cute doing that.
The waiter comes back around. He whisks the pen he has tucked behind his ear out and poises it at his notepad.
"Are you ready to order?"
We nod. I gesture at Konoka. He looks at her expectantly. She nods her head at me. I roll my eyes.
"I'll have a buffalo wrap please," I inform him.
Across the table, Konoka looks surprised and a little alarmed. The small smile has disappeared off her face.
"I'll uh, have the same thing?" she says.
As soon as the waiter has left, Konoka grabs my hand urgently and says, "Secchan, what did I just order?"
"A buffalo wrap?" I answer, a little confused.
"Is there-" her eyes bulge out, "is there real buffalo in there?"
I can't help it. I burst out into laughter. After I calm down I explain to her what a buffalo wrap is. She starts giggling too, until she suddenly realizes again what she has ordered.
"But Secchan, I don't like spicy things!"
I shrug mischievously. She mock-glares at me.
"Seccch-" she begins to whine, but stops mid-sentence. She seems to have suddenly remembered that we are not friends anymore.
"Oh, fuck whatever they told me to call you," she grumbles to herself.
I jump in surprise.
She smirks at me. Her cool demeanor is completely gone.
"You should hear what I say to my dear grandfather these days. He's still trying to set me up with a lovely husband in a respectable profession with oodles of money to pamper me to death."
I nod in sympathy.
"I don't even think he realizes that I'm not interested in men!" she rants.
I nod in mock sympathy. Konoka scowls at me.
"Well it's not like you've told him," I point out.
She scowls even more.
"Actually, I did. His reaction was to introduce me to younger men instead. He thought by men I meant I didn't like older men."
"Maybe you should grow a Mohawk instead," I muse, "That would definitely make him wonder about some things."
Konoka looks horrified.
"And you know," I continue, "you could color it all sorts of great fluorescent colors…"
Konoka looks like she is going to cry at the idea of doing all those terrible things to her hair.
"I'm kidding, of course," I say hurriedly, "it was just an idea."
"Well," she says, "I suppose I could die my hair pink."
I have an irresistible urge to smile. I smile.
"You're so girly."
She glares. The waiter chooses then to arrive with our orders, setting identical plates of glowing red buffalo chicken wraps in front of us. He flutters off as Konoka prods her buffalo wrap dubiously.
"I know," I say, before biting into my wrap.
Konoka picks up the wrap hesitantly and takes a tiny bite into it. Her eyes begin to water.
"It's, it's it's so spiiiicyyyy!" she wails, tears streaming out of her eyes.
"Konoka-san," I announce through my mouthful of food, "you are so. Girly."
She blinks, and then for some reason suddenly begins to laugh. I don't know why, but I begin to laugh too; chunks of buffalo chicken spray out of my mouth, and even as I choke in embarrassment I laugh more and more.
It feels comfortable.
Somehow we end up taking a taxi to Konoka's mansion; I think Konoka invited me there. We spend the entire ride telling childhood stories to each other and laughing at our stupidity. But we don't tread beyond that area.
When we get there, Konoka strides leisurely towards the double oak front doors, but I rear back, suddenly overtaken by cowardice. I don't want to be seen by the guards and the maids. Konoka, ever observant, takes my hand and walks around through the bramble bushes and a grove of orange trees to the left side of her mansion instead.
She points up to a window on the third floor, adorned by hunter green and brown polka-dot curtains. Light peeps through them.
"That's my room," she whispers. She scurries underneath the window, where I notice a ladder is hiding. I walk over to help her upright the ladder.
"You do this often?"
"I do a lot of things, now."
We climb the steps quietly, making sure not to disturb the sentries. Somehow I'm sure they know about this, because if they didn't they would be very bad guards indeed and would likely have been fired long ago. Konoka confirms this by simply pushing her ladder over once we're in the room, letting it fall with a loud crash.
"I think the only person who probably didn't hear that was your grandfather," I remark dryly.
"I know," she replies, "isn't it great?"
She sighs with dismay as she notices the condition of the room though. It is a mess; books are stacked in random columns across the floor, with clothes strewn haphazardly over them. Crumpled-up papers are gathered around a wire trash bin that is overflowing.
"I can help you," I say as Konoka begins rushing around, picking everything up and throwing it into a corner. She does not seem to be very good at cleaning.
"Make the bed," is all Konoka says.
"Why don't you have a servant clean your room?" I ask as I clear the mass of textbooks, highlighters and pens off the bed.
"I don't like using servants, they always treat me as some sort of higher being, rather than just a friend or another person," she growls.
That hurts a little. I throw a pink-and-purple spiral print pillow at her.
"Hey!" she exclaims. She whips it back at me, smiling a little. "Put that back where it belongs!"
As I place the pillow down Konoka suddenly tackles me, crushing me and tickling with her fingers. I giggle uncontrollably.
"S-s-stop!" I gasp out.
"Neverrrr!" she growls, increasing the intensity.
"Kono-channnn," I whine, turning redder and redder. I feel like a radioactive tomato.
She stops tickling me, and a faraway look enters her eyes. Absentmindedly she begins to trace circles around the fabric of my clothing. I grow afraid at the silence, and am more and more uncomfortable by the second.
"You," she says quietly, "you called me Konochan."
I don't know what the feeling is, but it's like falling in a bottomless abyss, a black dread that fills you like a water balloon, stripped of everything but a thin membrane, and you're waiting for the floor to come just so gravity will finally rush up to greet you so that your bones can finally grind into –
"Secchan," she breathes. I focus on her voice. I want to run away.
"Secchan," she repeats.
"K-kono," I begin to say, but pause. My throat has become a circle of sandpaper. I swallow and try again. "Kono-chan," I whisper.
She looks at me like she sees me again, and her eyes are still unfathomable but they are blackened and intense. They are broken and reset and I do not know I have fallen backwards until she puts out her hands and pins me down gently on her snow white comforter. It burns, and as she leans in to kiss me her long black hair falls around her like a solar eclipse, shadowing her face. Time slows down.
We remove our clothes and do not speak. Her breath is ragged as I reach out to touch her, and it is languid, and anguished, and I cannot breathe. Her skin burns.
We make love, and it is not tender, and it is not frantic. It is angry, and resentful, and slow, so, so slow. She sinks her teeth into eight years of grief. I kiss my way down eight years of pain. We make love to the future. We make love to bury the past. It is not enjoyable.
When we are finished I feel exhausted. There are too many emotions, too much time. Konoka is looking at me, her face still half in shadow. The moonlight illuminates the other half in an eerie way, and her eyes are unreadable.
"Can you forgive me?" I whisper.
Her face falls apart.
"Oh, Secchan," she says.
A rush of warm air envelopes me. It is like there had been a ghost in the room; a cold, bitter, crystalline ghost, and it had just melted, drops of sorrow evaporating into thin air.
"Kono-chan," I murmur.
In the morning I wake up. I don't recognize my surroundings; it's all lilac and pink and warm soothing colors. Suddenly I remember where I am.
"Fuck," I groan.
"No swearing, Setsuna," a voice chastises me. Konoka has appeared in the doorway of the room. She's wearing an apron, and a chef's hat sags awkwardly on her hair.
"Where'd you get that?" I ask, gesturing at the hat.
Konoka grins. "Just something I like to wear when I cook food," she says, "it's kind of cute, don't you think?"
I blush in response and flash a tiny smile at her. Her smile grows wider.
"I've made breakfast," she says.
"Coming," I say. I roll out of the bed.
Konoka turns red and coughs a little.
"What," I ask.
"Oh I don't know," she says mischievously, "but you might want to put some clothes on."
She runs to her closet and rummages through it, throwing me a red t-shirt and red pajama bottoms.
"They'll go well with the color of your skin," she says.
I growl at her and she giggles.
"You know," Konoka comments over the glass table, "people don't change so much," sipping her cup of coffee.
"You're drinking coffee," I point out.
"I know," Konoka agrees, "and I can probably swear better than you too, but I meant that however else they change, people still want the same things."
I pause my absent-minded perusal of the newspaper.
"I think," I say haltingly, "that I'm waiting for a second chance with someone I love."
I stare straight at Konoka.
A slow smile spreads across her face.
"You've grown up, Secchan," she says.
She leans over and kisses me.
IT'S DONE. Wow. That took far too long. Obviously unedited, but hey, it's up! It's up! I'm done! I'm done!
I hope you enjoyed that, I truly apologize, again, for the long delay, I hope you can forgive me, and I wish you all good tidings in your Kono-Setsu shipping!