Naoko hated giving in.
When she was a young girl she always had her childish desires thwarted in the nicest, if not most manipulative of ways. Her father couldn't say a direct 'no' to anything his only child asked, so he would wheedle and cajole and do slight of hand to make her resolve falter. This way he could test her to see how badly she wanted something, how much her young mind would focus on one specific wish to the exclusion of all others.
'There is no such thing as real magic,' her father would say and try to pull coins from her ear. He knew how to make her blink, with glittery trinkets and sweet smelling foods. From his palms came brightly colored handkerchiefs, the fluttering of dove wings, her own words written on slips of prayer paper that she kept hidden. Every time was a different marvel, the only constant came from his lips, that it was all illusionary. It was contradictory that he would go to such lengths to promote these fantasies right in front of her face while telling her she was being deceived.
But that is how she came to trust the world, to know that actions and words held errors, misdirection, feints and distractions. She had grown up believing that if she could just push past all those glamours she would be rewarded with whatever it was she was dedicated enough to persevere.
Her father always conceded if she could figure out what it was he was hiding. He would shrug his broad shoulders without the slightest trace of defeat and bow to her, usually foisting her childish body up over his head and swing her around as an added reward. In the midst of her weightlessness, he would laugh in that booming way of his to praise her as she flew through the air.
And although she didn't tell her father about it, Naoko believed that was a kind of real magic.
Ueda never gave in. Even when he was absolutely, completely, positively wrong. And, Naoko reflected bitterly, he was wrong a lot of the time.
Stupid Ueda, so concerned with his ego, his book sales and his overall sense of being right. He didn't have to distract her. He was the distraction himself. All he would do is come into her life and bribe her, with rent money, with food, or with trips that always sounded more leisurely and elegant than the dumps she ended up at. Places and rest stops where he took her after making her drop her life to follow him on some wild chase, only to return her back to her previous life with nothing to show for it. Not even a thank you, or a footnote in his stories. All that free food was for nothing two weeks later when her stomach was chewing itself inside out and she was in desperate need of some income.
It made Naoko angry with herself; to be at the point in her life where she had nothing she wanted beyond the distractions. She didn't want to think about how all those compromises might be what kept her from being a great magician like her father. The only thing she was more zealous about avoiding in her thoughts was the nagging fear that this was the best she could do, and she still was denied. That, perhaps, her father was as wrong as his last words made him out to be.
'There are real spiritualists.'
Naoko did not want to discount anything her father told her, not when he was such a foundation for her life even now. But she had to reject his last words as he lay dying in her mother's arms, because if she didn't then she would still have to admit he was wrong. And she couldn't abide with the idea that there was magic that would twist and destroy like humankind's fraudulent illusionists attempted to do.
Better that there was no magic at all, even those of her memories that seemed real as the wind blowing through her hair. To believe in the unbelievable meant losing the other limitations. It meant giving up logic and reason for a void, like having her father's arms fall from her all over again and being expected to fly.
Naoko Yamada preferred the company of an imbecile like Ueda because he staunchly believed that there was no such thing as magic. And for a while she could put up with his distractions and his misleading traits because the entire time he kept insisting the truth that echoed in her own thoughts. It gave her a kind of comfort, a solace that she was not alone, right or wrong. She felt secure even when he fainted dead away beside her because at least when he came to he would insist he was right. And they would have to prove it to him first before they tried to sway her.
So when the nuances of magic and supernatural powers were given form and proof in front of her own eyes she was decimated. Not to mention a little crestfallen that it was not Ueda who stood before her to add some kind of legitimacy to the claim, or some welcome familiarity.
It was not something he would understand.
His reasons for insisting he was right may have been entrenched in numbers or ego, but Naoko's wasn't. She was an opponent of magic because of her faith in her father and whether or not it was a distraction or an immutable truth she did not care because she believed.
Seeing her father's face in candlelight with that once proud voice echoing contradictions in her mind made her hands tremble and drop whatever cards she kept palmed, whatever tricks she had left to argue with deceit for deceit. Though she didn't want to believe it, his words rang true within her. Perhaps because she wanted her father back more than anything else in the world, even if it wasn't her true father who carried her aloft all those years ago. If she wanted it badly enough to look toward the eye-catchers and away from whatever else was being offered behind those curtains and flashes of smoke.
It was not as easy to disclaim her newly discovered past as wrong, as a flaw in some kind of formula like Ueda's faith, but it sent her beliefs spinning without purchase. How could she attempt to deny something that was her first constant, with her current life now offering nothing else except for paltry attempts to catch her interest?
How could she disbelieve magic when she was responsible for murdering her father with that very same motive?
'Watch where my hand moves,' her father whispered as his fingers darted past her face. One, two, three...Naoko couldn't keep herself from blinking. 'And that's how you pull a coin from someone's ear.'
But even in acquiescence Naoko faltered. She hated giving in, even more than being wrong. And the one mistake they made when they proved her denial of spiritual powers was fruitless is they gave her nothing else to believe in, nothing except another view to deny. They thought she would be satisfied knowing she had special abilities regardless of the fact that they were borne out of her father's death, that this empty truth would give her solace after all those times she shattered the blind faith of others. She was good at denying but without an opposing point of view, some foil to keep her balanced and aggravated, she had no further motivation to keep hoping for seeing the truth.
Naoko was a selfish person; it was only fair that she would want some kind of reward for her perseverance. And this life was no reward.
So when she was wrapped in red robes with the weight of her guilt being the only thing that kept her lingering on the island, the memory of her father the only thing that kept her from arguing against her folly, Ueda's sudden appearance gave her an irrational, distracting hope. But she denied it of course, because Naoko was good at opposition as much as denial, and Ueda had nothing substantive to offer her to believe in.
It wasn't like Ueda was very good at being sympathetic anyway. The first words out of his mouth that weren't questions were asking her how stupid she was for believing them.
Technically, 'have you gone mad!' was a question. However, they both knew the answer to the statement and so it didn't really count in either of their eyes for different reasons. Diametrically opposed reasons, but since they were already viciously sniping at each other from different sides of a long contested debate there was no reason to add another point of conflict.
Ueda was also a selfish person. He wanted some kind of justified reason for her departure, and barring the possibility he might ever be wrong, he wanted her apology and return.
The only reason Naoko stayed was because she hated giving in. Especially to an idiotic stubborn man that fainted far too easily when trouble presented itself.
'Come to your senses,' Ueda snapped with all the conviction she once had. He indeed was all those things she thought of him as, but he never admitted he was wrong. And those times when they agreed, however rare those were, she felt comfort in his words.
He was not her father, Naoko reasoned, presenting her with a challenge of discerning her real motivations. He was just a foolhardy man who didn't know the truth behind her beliefs and her reasons for being so aimless now. And even if this was a test and he was waiting for her to choose, it didn't change the fact her father was wrong.
She didn't care anymore if Ueda was wrong or right.
She had started to walk away, blocking out the coastal wind that whipped against her kimono and the loose strands of her hair.
Ueda had no logical reasoning to convince her in time to stop her retreat, so he conceded to his instincts and grabbed her arm. His fingers were large as they wrapped around her wrist. Naoko could almost imagine a hand that size hiding great wonders to catch her eye. Except that Ueda had no skill for sleight of hand. He was no magician. The only thing he held in his grasp was her.
Naoko turned to glare at him for daring to touch her. She pulled against his grip for trying to convince her. For insisting he was right when she could only insist he was wrong. And he was wrong.
His strong arms lifted her back to him, swinging her into the wind with such speed she felt like she was flying for a moment; except she could still feel the great pressure where his hands held her aloft and the warmth against her sides.
'Come with me,' Ueda said.
Torn between two flawed beliefs Naoko paused, trying desperately to search for some measure of conviction in either of them. When she had exhausted herself of all the possibilities and she came to the decision that she could not her eyes turned back to Ueda in the hope that she could borrow some in him.
And she wondered if this was his version of truth.