XIV.

Hope


The side door of the warehouse opens, pushing bitter Winter out of the foyer. With the barrier gone, a terrific cacophony of sound barrels through the relative desolation, some jumbled mélange of music and conversation screaming almost against the high stone and metallic structures of Montréal's industrial park, loud enough almost to blow Hikari over. It isn't so much the noise that compels her backwards as the woman who answers the door.

"Hey, you found it! Salut, hello!"

Suyin, with an artful sort of violence, pulls her inside and shuts out the chill. She is beaming, a fountain of incomprehensible drunken French-Chinese babble as she takes Hikari's arm with one hand and the gifted wine bottle in the other. Then with an extravagant breath, she manages, "It's great you stopped by, even if it's just for a little while."

"I'm sorry I can't stay longer." says Hikari. "I'm just on this crazy schedule and..."

"Don't apologize, it's all Stéphane's idea anyway."

Suyin leads her upstairs, where a square Bauhaus-style hallway leads to a thumping, dancing swirl of lights. The music is infinitely louder than before; Hikari can distinguish faceless, moving bodies through the darkness, clouds of cigarette smoke drifting like mist, figures grinding against tables piled high with empty glass bottles, and behind the dance floor, a yellow kitchen glow through French doors. Suyin leads her toward it through the madness, their conversation escalated to a scream against the loud, all-consuming music.

"Where is he?"

"Talking business." Says Suyin, weaving in and out of people.

"Business? Stéphane?"

"I told myself I'm going to marry an artist, expecting to be poor forever, and he turns out to be some kind of mogul in disguise."

She pulls Kari finally through the French doors and shuts them, instantly blotting the noise of the party at least to a dull pulse. There are much fewer people here, and with the fireplace ablaze, it is warm and welcoming.

Suyin approaches two tall figures and lays a hand on one's shoulder, "Husband, I've found someone for you."

Stéphane, the taller of the two, a dark, agreeable-looking Frenchman, laughs with delight on sight of Hikari.

"Oho, here finally!" His hug actually lifts her off the ground, "Can it be? Am I dreaming?"

"Should I pinch you and see?" She teases.

"You're a tease. We never see you because you're too busy and don't like us."

She laughs, "Oh come on, Stéphane."

"Yes, okay, I know. We'll be seeing more of you soon enough. But I'm glad you stopped by before you're headed back. Oh actually," He turns to his companion, "you're from Japan too, aren't you?"

The heartbeat that escalates suddenly in her chest is twice as loud as the music. This man, tall, dark blonde, almond-eyed, looks like Takeru, but looks distinctly different, too. Is it him, really? Doubt twists in her stomach. It isn't so strange to see his face sometimes, peeking out through the features of strangers.

She extends a reluctant hand. "Hello. I'm Kari."

He shakes it, and their eyes meet again, four portals of immeasurable gravity, hers black as night sky, his bright as daylight, and with a jolt she recognizes him. Takeru then laughs inexplicably—inexplicable to Stéphane and Suyin at any rate—and says,

"TK. Nice to meet you."

"Kari's a photographer." Stéphane tells him. "We met at this New Year Party in Tokyo, wasn't it, a long time ago, managed to keep in contact, no thanks to this one (he gestures toward Hikari), the rest is just a love story. You've been in Europe awhile though now, haven't you, Kari? London?"

"Lisbon." She says. Stéphane lays a hand on TK's chest and shakes him playfully.

"Now this brave man, this charming man, he deserves the Cross of Valour for agreeing to be my copy editor." He slaps Takeru's shoulder. "Certainly a step down from the magazine venture, but we'll be working closely. Kari, you've got to see this guy's magazine. Growl—it's amazing. Have you heard of it?"

Suyin pulls his arm. "We all need celebratory drinks. Do you want anything? TK? Kari?"

They both decline. The couple tarries off, and at length Takeru says it's a bit warm and suggests they wander outside for a bit. They pass again through the thumping dance floor and hallway, out the side door, and when the door is closed, she observes him for a long minute, not saying a word. It is ultimately he who breaks the silence:

"Lisbon, huh?" He says, "Did you find what you were looking for?"

There is a perceptible level of reserve in his countenance, and painfully she smiles, reigning in vain the abundant emotion overpowering her other sensibilities.

"I wasn't looking for anything with a name." She says.

He grins, turning his attention to the empty alley with a distant eye. Maybe it's not him. It's possible. There remains so little of what she recognizes. His hair is longer, his clothes are different, his voice and accent have changed. But even his air is unfamiliar. She rubs her hands on her arms, debating on whether to duck inside for her coat.

Instead, she asks: "Do you still live in New York City?"

"Nope. I'm here now." He looks back at her. "I moved almost four months ago."

"It must have been hard to leave it behind."

"It's easier than you'd think." There, suddenly, his expression when he faces her looks like it used to. But it passes quickly on. She glances around the corner, shuffling her feet, and turning back, catches him studying her. He quickly looks away.

She smiles a little bit. "Do I have something on my face?"

He fiddles around in his hoodie pockets to fight off the embarrassment. "No, you just…" He grins, too, mostly to himself. "You look different."

"What's different?"

"Your clothes, your hair, I don't know."

The wind rattles through, reminding her that she's out in the cold with her arms bare and her head exposed. She rubs her hands over her fingers, her fingers over her arms, then her arms over her ears.

"Do you want to go back inside?"

"Not yet." She says.

He pulls his jacket off, and while she protests, she ultimately slides into the dark pink cotton, arms swimming in the warm largeness of it. "Thank you," she says.

"No problem." He stares at her again, this time without hiding it. "It's a good different."

She smiles. "Does it match what I'm wearing?"

"Not that." He sounds exasperated. "You."

"You've changed, too." She remarks.

He seems surprised. "I haven't changed."

"Take it from someone who remembers." She says wryly. "It's not bad, just different."

"I guess it was inevitable."

"It always is." She tentatively reaches up and brushes his hair back from his face. He goes stock still and her hand retreats, embarrassed. After only moments of wearing it, she slides the hoodie off her shoulders and returns it to him.

"Let's go back inside." She says. "Stéphane and Suyin are probably wondering where we went."

She opens the side door halfway before he stops her, cold hand to her shoulder.

"Not yet." He says.

She lets the door fall shut. He offers her the hoodie but she declines, and though he shivers underneath his tee-shirt, he doesn't wear it, either. He neither looks at her nor speaks to her for a minute, maybe two. Then he says,

"You're going back?"

"To Japan? Yes."

"I haven't been home in years."

"So I've been told." She says. "You always did like to stay away."

He smiles; it is real and familiar. "Some things don't change."

His eyes that fall down on hers deepen in their blueness.

"That's a different kind of inevitable." She says.

He nods.

"It's funny, though, don't you think?" She wets her lips, all the colder for it. She doesn't know what she's trying to say, exactly. "I can't tell if I know you or not. Time passes, you become a different person, you experience the world differently, but…"

"It happens to everyone."

"I know, but…love, you know? Some people stay in love their whole lives. It's frightening, isn't it? It's as if, just when you think you've outgrown it, you realize…"

She trails off, having said more than she intended. If she's betrayed her own thoughts though, he doesn't seem to notice.

Takeru puts his hands in his pocket, deliberating. "I can't explain it either, but I understand."

He's watching the light play on the warehouse wall. "Certainty is the hardest thing to grasp. Faith, hope, love, they're hard to believe in. But sometimes they don't change, and that…that's a different kind of inevitable we face."

"We?" She asks.

"Me."

His eyes catch hers. His voice is low, quiet even in the stillness of the industrial park.

"All of it," he says, "is still the same today. I'm certain that won't change."

He reaches out; softly his thumb traces brow bone to cheek, holds there, studies her, then his arm drops lifeless, back to his side. Sighing suddenly, he takes a step back. There is silence once more in the brightly-lit night, unmoving too, but for the snowy chill blowing through the concrete walls and Hikari, trembling. He starts to wrap the coat around her shoulders.

"Here, you're freezing."

"Stop, please." She says, closing her eyes tight.

She inhales deeply, and when she exhales again, a breath of white heat expels from her mouth and water slithers down her cheeks, gathered and quickly brushed away by her own icy fingers. She looks up at him with those polished black stones called eyes flickering, their darkest and most genuine hue.

"I wanted to remember it. So, thank you." She says.

Takeru nods. He puts his arms over his head, staring up into the blue-gray starless night. Her gaze follows his, then she says,

"I should go."

He coughs and nods again, eyes still fixed on heaven. She tugs the door open, dithers, then glances over her shoulder.

"Me too." She says.

He looks at her. The corner of her mouth lifts, just a little. "I'm the same."

The door in one hand, Hikari extends the other, brushing those stray gold strands from his eyes. Then, as he had done, she traces the brow bone to cheek and holds there. Then her hand falls; she slips inside, and the door clicks shut after her.

Takeru stares at the door, where like before, the pulsing thump of dance music reverberates softly from inside, connected to but separated from the ice-gray pavement of the industrial park. He takes a few steps forward, making to reach for the door. Then, grunting swiftly, he turns back, sighs, and kicks the wall instead. This is a mistake. With a wince, he is hissing, limps in a small circle and, puffing like a train, pulls his hoodie on and rubs his arms vigorously.

"Fuck." He says. "Fuck, fuck."

He shakes his head, glaring, dissatisfied, and is actually gearing up to kick the wall again when the side door re-opens.

"—don't have to walk me out, guys…"

"No, no, we'll see you off properly. Oh, here's one more! TK, back me up." Stéphane's arm ropes Takeru in by the neck. "You live in Plateau, okay. Suyin thinks Kari should live in Outremont. She's crazy, right?"

"Stéphane, please." Suyin, leaning on Kari, stamps her foot. "I don't have anything against Plateau, but we're supposed to be having a party, not talking real estate…"

"I'm only saying."

Takeru looks questioningly between all three persons congregated around the side door.

"…what?"

Suyin laughs a little too animatedly and nearly falls over in the process. "Kari, our darling Kari, is moving to Montréal for a thrilling global adventure. You'll be here…when? Two months? Three?"

"Three." Says Hikari.

"Which means you can't avoid us anymore." Says Stéphane. "We'll have gallery exhibits and collaborations and public art projects, everything."

"I'm glad." Hikari says. Her eyes meet Takeru's. "I'll be in good company."

He can think of nothing to say in response, but Suyin, glancing between them, does.

"Have you two met before?" She asks. Even intoxicated, her facial expression shows surprising astuteness.

Kari nods, mostly to Takeru, a little grin working itself free in the corners of her mouth.

His glare melts somewhat. "Long story."

"No shit!" Stéphane looks excitedly between them. "You know each other?"

"Crazy coincidence!" says Suyin.

"Ah, Burroughs says there are no coincidences." Having said this, Stéphane laughs himself to tears. "This...this is the magical universe."

With some struggle, Suyin manages to stand on her own feet. "Okay, let's let her go. She's got a long flight ahead. Call us first thing. We'll pick you up from the airport, anything you need."

"And you," Stéphane grips Takeru's shoulder, "still need your celebratory drink."

"Walk Kari to her car, first." Says Suyin. It's not really a request. "Come Stéphane, it's cold."

The pair carries each other indoors, leaving Hikari and Takeru together in the cold.

She grins, "I'm parked this way."

"You tricked me."

"I did?"

They start walking through the alley, along the side of the building.

"You," he says, "are moving here, and you didn't say anything?"

"We haven't talked in nearly three years."

"We were just… You could have mentioned it in the course of conversation!"

"And that would have made a difference?"

She stops to face him. Here he stops also.

"I…" But having no defense, he can't continue.

"You haven't changed as much as I thought." Her voice sounds cross, but her mouth is playful. She reaches her rental car. "It doesn't change what I said, either."

She unlocks the door and climbs inside.

"Hey." He says.

She stands up. "What is it?"

He walks up and faces her, their two bodies separated by the car door.

"When you come back…" He says, "Move to Plateau."

Kari smiles. "We'll see."

"I'm not asking."

"We'll see." She insists.

He leans forward a little bit, hesitates.

"Yes?" She asks.

He starts in again, his eyes flitting between her eyes and her smiling mouth. She swoops down into the car suddenly. Exasperated, he nevertheless shuts the door in good humor.

Kari holds up three fingers, mouths something indistinguishable, and starting the car, pulls off down the single lane road, watching him in her rear view mirror, slows as she approaches the corner, and turns finally.

Magic.

In the Magical Universe, there are no accidents and there are no coincidences. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.

Magic, she asks. Her fingers roll into his.

Hm?

She touches her thumb along his face, eyelash, brow bone, cheek.

Do you believe in it?

Takeru watches her car turn around the corner, smiling faintly. "I do."


End of Heavenly Deadly

Notes:

Magical Universe

A quote from William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, beat writer extraordinary.

Plateau and Outremont

Neighborhoods in Montreal, which I very recently had the pleasure of visiting. Both very nice places to live, or so I hear. Hopefully I, too, will live a fancy life there. HAHAHAHAHAAHA.

Bauhaus

Commie influenced, utilitarian-ish Architectural movement originating, I think, in 1920s. If you live in a city but don't know this term, you've probably seen Bauhaus style apartments and didn't know what to call it. Who says fan-fiction isn't educational?

And on that note, I am so, infinitely done. This story has stolen so much more life and time and energy and thought out of me than ever I realized it would when I started writing it FOUR YEARS AGO.

Thanks to everyone who stuck through for the long haul, really. Love.