Dreaming of Akina

Chapter Forty Five

Before anyone had the time to reply to Midori's remark, they saw Yuuichi's Capella entering the repairs shop and, soon enough, Yuuichi himself walked into the garage, looking around till he found Bunta. Then, closing the gap between him and his best friend, he stood in front of Bunta and said:

'Here you are!' he exclaimed and was going to add something else when, at long last, he realised that there was some stranger standing next to the 2000GT, 'er…'

'Yuuichi,' Bunta said, 'this is Yoshida-san, he's a friend of Midori's.'

'Ah,' Yuuichi said, 'nice to meet you,' he then added while offering Yoshida a polite bow who just gave Yuuichi a curt nod. Then, as though as nothing had happened, Yoshida looked at Midori and, not bothering to hide his amusement, he said:

'Mi-chan, I wonder if I could have a quick word with your…boyfriend.'

'Of course you can,' Midori replied and, glancing at everyone, she smiled and said, 'can I get a volunteer to show me around the place?'

Nitta-san and Eikichi seemed to become all flustered while Masashi looked as if he were trying to find somewhere to hide, Yuuichi wasn't faring much better and kept staring at Bunta, probably to see if his best friend would come to the rescue.

Needless to say, Bunta didn't do any such thing for he was having the time of his life seeing that, for once, Midori was ordering around someone else that wasn't him and had a lot of trouble repressing a chuckle as he saw her stepping out of the garage, with all four men following her.

'She's quite something, isn't she?' Yoshida asked, forcing Bunta to pay attention to the guy.

'You've got no idea,' he replied.

'Oh, I do,' Yoshida said, 'trust me. I do.'

Bunta realised a tad too late that Yoshida had been introduced as one of Midori's good friends so, naturally, the guy knew Midori a whole lot better than he did. This made him feel rather stupid so, in order to recover some ressemblance of dignity, he said:

'Yeah, you've known Midori for a long time, right?'

'Not really,' Yoshida replied, 'just a handful of years: enough to know how much trouble she can be when she wants to. But you probably know this by now, after all, you're her new boyfriend.'

For some reason, Bunta didn't quite like the way Yoshida had made that sound. As if he were some sort of trophy, Midori's latest plaything. With a pang, Bunta realised that he probably wasn't much more else than that. For some unknown reason, that kind of hurt Bunta...at any rate, right at that moment, he really didn't have the time to think about this kind of things.

'So,' he said, 'what is it that you do in Toyota?'

'I work in their Testing Department,' Yoshida replied, 'as part of the designing team.'

'Designing?' Bunta asked.

'Yes,' Yoshida replied, 'my team is the one who is in charge of developing new models for Toyota. We, of course, work closely with the Engineering Department, they're the ones who develop the new engines.'

'Ah,' Bunta gasped, 'er...you said you could try and help…'

'That's right,' Yoshida said.

'Why would you?' Bunta asked, knowing that he was kind of pushing his luck but, somehow, he really needed to know the reason why this Yoshida Akio, a perfect stranger, was so willing to help him.

'There are several reasons,' Yoshida replied, 'to start with, Midori asked me and, she's persuasive enough to convince any man to do whatever she wants,' he continued, confirming one of his worst suspicions: Midori really had an enormous power over any man she targeted and that was a most unsettling thought.

'The other reason,' Yoshida added, 'is that I'm curious.'

'Curious?' Bunta asked.

'Yes,' Yoshida replied, 'Midori's told me a bit about you. You seem to be quite the racer.'

'Well, I…'

'Good enough to make Takashi-kun so upset as to get defensive.'

'Er…'

'And, that, is what's made me get curious,' Yoshida said, 'I'm not sure the kind of opinion you have about your new team mate but, I've never liked Midori's younger brother.'

Bunta had a lot of trouble trying to keep his face as expressionless as possible.

'…to me, guys like Takashi-kun shouldn't be racing. They're a danger to themselves and to the other racers. The problem is that his parents, and most especially his father, seem to humour him so that he stays out of trouble.'

'You seem to know a lot about the Itachi,' Bunta couldn't help but to say.

'I do,' Yoshida said, 'they almost became my in-laws.'

Bunta almost fell on to the ground and felt lucky that he had been leaning against one of the few spaces void of hanging tools that the wall had. His face probably displayed his utmost shock for Yoshida smiled at him in a very patronising way.

'You really don't know much about your girlfriend, do you?'

'Yoshida-san,' Bunta started, 'Midori and I…well, we've only been seeing each other for a few days.'

'Really?' Yoshida asked and, this time, it seemed like he was the one being surprised. Bunta nodded once and, that made Yoshida say, 'well, then I think that this time Midori really is in love.'

'What do you mean?' Bunta asked.

'Well,' Yoshida said, 'she's never been this desperate to help any of her boyfriends out. It seems like something about you is making her forget that she's a spoilt little girl.'

He said this using such a caring tone of voice that, instead of an offence, he seemed to be paying Midori a compliment. This confused Bunta even more than he already was.

'I don't know what to say,' he confessed.

'No need to say anything,' Yoshida said, 'I'm surprised though, with you being so young.'

'I'm nineteen,' Bunta interrupted him.

'Right,' Yoshida continued, 'I should know that it was due time Midori found the guy who would force her to become a bit more selfless. I only hope that you will find it in yourself to know how lucky you are.'

'I know I'm lucky,' Bunta said and, for the first time, he started seeing everything Midori did and said under a brand new light. Maybe, just maybe, he had never given her the benefit of the doubt and, because of this, he made it a point to try and be nicer to her.

'Okay,' Yoshida said, 'now that we've got this out of the way, let's focus on this poor thing, shall we?'

Bunta nodded and followed Yoshida around the car's front so that they could look into the mess that the engine's death had caused. Seeing it like this, in the cold daylight made Bunta feel rather horrible and he really felt like crouching next to his 2000GT so that he could apologise to it in every way he knew.

'It doesn't look that bad,' Yoshida said, 'sure we're going to have to work on it a lot but, I think I know the right guy for the job.'

'What do you mean?' Bunta asked.

'I wonder if you'd be okay with me sending a truck to send this baby into our workshop?' Yoshida asked instead of replying to Bunta's question.

'Er…'

'I mean, I can hardly do what I want to do in here, no offence to your friends.'

'What is it that you want to do?' Bunta asked him. Yoshida just placed his right hand on top of Bunta's left shoulder and, offering him a somewhat reassuring smile, he just said:

'I can't give you the exact details yet but, don't worry, your car will be in the best possible hands.'

Bunta knew that he had to feel very grateful but, something was gnawing at him. He didn't know what but, it was just too good to be true.

'How much is this going to cost me?' he couldn't help but to ask.

'Nothing,' Yoshida replied removing his hand. Bunta made a double take and shook his head.

'Nothing is free of charge,' he said.

'It won't be free of charge,' Yoshida said, 'what I have in mind will involve a bit of your collaboration. I'm sure that we'll reach some sort of agreement. But don't worry about it now, it's nothing that will cost you money and certainly, it won't get you in any sort of trouble.'

'How can I be sure of that?' Bunta asked.

'Because you have my word,' Yoshida replied looking very serious, 'if Midori's right about you, I'm sure that it'll be us who'll have to be grateful to you. Now, I'd love to have a longer chat with you but, right now, I've got to go back to work. Just be sure to let Midori know when I can send someone to pick this baby up, okay?'

'S-sure,' Bunta muttered, 'I just…'

'Hey,' Yoshida said, 'it'll be fine. Midori said that you're going to be taking part, along with Takashi-kun, in the Fuji Freshman Series this year.'

'Yes,' Bunta replied.

'Then,' Yoshida continued, 'so that you can focus on that, she asked me to make sure had someone to take care of your car. Believe me, having Takashi-kun as a team mate, you'll need all your energies to make sure he doesn't make you look bad at every race.'

Once again, Bunta felt grateful that Midori seemed to be favouring him over her own younger brother and this made him feel rather good. Also, it seemed as though as Yoshida-san had had some sort of first hand experience dealing with Takashi and Bunta made himself a mental note to ask Midori about it.

'Okay, I'll better go and find Midori so that we can go home,' Yoshida said and, with that, he walked out of the garage leaving Bunta alone with his 2000GT. The nineteen year old stared at the open bonnet for a few instants and, just before everyone would come back, he crouched next to it and, with a tone of voice just above a whisper, he said:

'We can trust that guy, can't we?'

Ten days later, and somehow having avoided giving any kind of explanation to anyone involved, not even his uncle who was now driving Bunta in the Bellett all the way to Oyama in the Shizuoka prefecture to the first event of the Fuji Freshman Series which would be held at the Fuji Speedway.

'So,' Eikichi said just after entering the motorway, 'have you heard from that Yoshida?'

'Yes,' Bunta replied, 'his guys are bringing the 2000GT next week.'

'Aha,' Eikichi said, 'and this is not going to cost you anything.'

'No, it won't,' Bunta replied, careful to keep a neutral tone of voice.

'Right,' Eikichi added. He couldn't have expressed any more scepticism even if he had tried.

'Listen,' Bunta said, 'I've already told you. We've made an arrangement, it'll be fine and you shouldn't worry: it's nothing illegal.'

'That's not what I'm worried about,' Eikichi insisted.

'I know,' Bunta said, 'you still don't think it's a good idea that I'm relying on Midori for this but, please, do trust me. I know what I'm doing.'

'I hope so,' Eikichi muttered, still loud enough so that Bunta could hear it.

The two Fujiwaras spent the rest of the trip in silence which made the way feel a lot longer than what it really was. Bunta wished he could tell Eikichi about the so-called arrangement but, in all honesty, he didn't even know himself what the exact terms of the agreement were so, in any case, he couldn't tell his uncle anything, not even if he wanted to.

Bunta had really felt uneasy about the whole thing but, as Midori had reassured him many times, Yoshida was a very serious and decent guy and whatever he had in mind, it was probably a good thing so Bunta didn't have to worry about it.

Easier said than done, Bunta thought miserably. Especially since Midori had brushed it off as something unimportant when he had mentioned to her, as casually as possible, about the fact that she had never told him that she had actually been engaged to Yoshida.

Oh well, at least, he knew that he would have his beloved car soon enough. He simply couldn't wait to see what the engineers had done with it. Whatever it was, it probably was a much better job than what Bunta, or Nitta-san for that matter, could have ever done so, at the end of the day, he felt very grateful to both Yoshida and, of course, to Midori.

Midori. For some reason, he really was looking forward to seeing her.

Thankfully, he didn't have to wait for much longer for, as soon as they entered the circuit's car park, which seemed to be in the middle of some sort of refurbishing works, he saw her walking towards them, accompanied by her ever-present father who, by the way, was still entirely unaware of the kind of relationship his daughter had with his newly recruited driver.

'Hello there,' Itachi-san said greeting first Eikichi then, offering a fatherly smile to Bunta.

'Morning,' Eikichi said, 'what in the heck are they doing in here?' he asked pointing at the scaffolding covering a new control tower and the other construction-site elements which were scattered all over the paddock.

'Oh,' Itachi-san said, 'they started rebuilding a part of the track,' he explained, 'apparently they thought it was too dangerous. Also, rumour has it, they want to have a Formula One race in this circuit in the future.'

'I see,' Eikichi said, 'so, what's the car looking like?'

'Come and check it out yourself,' Itachi-san replied, gesturing with his hand towards some small garage the Itachi Racing Team had been assigned, in what clearly was the old track-side building that would be discarded as soon as the new one was ready, 'Midori, sweetie, why don't you show Bunta where he's supposed to get changed?'

'Sure,' Midori replied smiling in a way which made Bunta look somewhere else. That woman really was too good looking for his own good, 'Bunta-kun, can you come with me?'

Only she could say something as innocent as that and make it sound almost indecent. Or, maybe, if he wanted to be fair, it was he who insisted in finding sexual connotations in everything she said…either way, he followed her while Eikichi did the same with Itachi-san. Bunta was too distracted to notice the amused look on his uncle's face which had nothing to do with whatever Itachi-san was telling him.

'So,' Midori said as soon as they were out of her father's hearing range, 'the two weeks are up.'

'I know,' Bunta said.

'What do you want us to do?' Midori asked him and he didn't need to look at her to know that Midori was no longer smiling. For some reason he felt bad about it and, checking quickly around the paddock, just to be sure that there was no one who could see them, he said:

'Can we go somewhere…a bit more...private?'

Midori nodded and, taking his hand, she led him inside the brand new building which would host the future boxes. Since it clearly wasn't in use just yet, it was completely empty of both furniture and people. There and using a pile of bricks which was covered by a plastic sheet, Bunta sat down and forced himself to look at her in the eye.

'Midori,' he started, 'the thing is, I think I should have told you this days ago.'

'Bunta…'

'No,' he said, 'please let me finish, okay?'

Midori nodded.

'The thing is,' he repeated, 'that I'd like for us to be together and…'

He never finished whatever he wanted to say for, right at that moment, Midori literally jumped on top of him making both fall onto the ground, sending Bunta into a state of sheer panic.

'Midori!' he exclaimed, 'the people…'

'Shush,' she said and, still lying on top of him, she started to kiss him obviously not considering important the fact that they were in a very public place where anyone could enter and discover them there. Soon though, and because of the way she was kissing and touching him, he found that he didn't care all that much either.

It was a good fifteen minutes later when the two of them finally joined Itachi-san and Eikichi and a sour looking Takashi who, for some reason, glared at Bunta the second his younger but much more talented team mate stepped into the garage where the Itachi Racing Team kept its car.

'Where were you?' he asked Bunta.

'I ran into someone I know,' Midori lied, 'I made Bunta wait for me because you know I don't like wandering around the paddock by myself.'

'Of course you don't,' Itachi-san said looking at his daughter adoringly, once again buying every single thing the girl told him, 'now, I trust that you'll keep Fujiwara-san entertained while Bunta and your brother start their warm up.'

'I'll do my best,' Midori said hooking her arm with Eikichi's in such a shameless way that even Bunta felt embarrassed for his poor uncle, 'so,' she continued, 'why don't us two go to the grandstand?'

Before Eikichi could express his opinion on the matter, not that it would have changed anything, he found himself dragged out of the garage by Midori. Bunta then decided to focus his attention on the black and white Nissan Skyline he would be racing in, forcing himself to stop thinking of what he and Midori had just done.

A handful of minutes later, he was in the queue of vehicles which waited for their turn to enter the section of the circuit reserved to the Fuji Freshman Series. Bunta found it odd that he wasn't anywhere near as nervous as he thought he'd be. After all, he hadn't had anywhere near as much time to train himself as Takashi and, also, he knew that his team mate had already competed in a few of these events so, all in all, he was just a rookie. It was odd that he didn't feel like one…

'Oh well,' Bunta muttered talking to the steering wheel, 'we'll be fine, I just have to drive you as I usually do, right?'

The car, of course, didn't reply to him but he didn't need it. Bunta allowed himself a tiny smile remembering the reason why Takashi had looked so surly earlier on: not only Bunta had got the right to use the car at the start of the warm up session but, what was even worse, Itachi-san had refused to let Takashi be at the starting grid and, instead, had put Bunta in charge of the first half of the race.

If one thing could be said about Itachi-san is that, as much as he liked indulging in both of his children, when it came to business he was quite ruthless and, when he said that he wanted to make it to the Japanese Touring Championship within the next two-three years, he meant it.

At long last, Bunta was allowed to move forward and, soon enough, he found himself cruising around the Fuji Speedway, enjoying the fact that the car's tyres felt great rolling on top of a newly laid asphalt. The track itself was a bit of a mess but Bunta had to acknowledge the fact that whatever they were doing to it, it would bring the Shizuoka based circuit to a whole new level of quality.

And, at the end of the day, Bunta just felt lucky that they were allowing him to do what he liked best: go as fast as he could, pushing the engine of the GT-R as much as possible. To think that he was actually getting paid for this!

Twenty laps later, he got a sign from one of the mechanics to go in so that they could check the car and Bunta felt almost sorry when he had to hand it over to Takashi who, still looking rather upset, literally pushed him out of the way.

'Shoo,' he said, 'now I'll show you how you drive this car.'

Bunta glared at him but, knowing that he hardly was in a position to say anything, limited himself with just that. He then observed the not so refined way in which his team mate took off with the car and, shaking his still helmeted head, he went to find the chair where he could sit down while he was idle, removing his gloves and helmet and placing them carefully next to him.

'How's the car?' he heard Itachi-san ask. He looked up and saw his boss standing to his left. The old man spoke while keeping an eye on the nearby circuit.

'It's great,' Bunta replied, 'I'm really grateful you…'

'Son,' Itachi-san interrupted him, this time focusing his attention on his driver, 'I think you know better than to think that we hired you out of charity. This team is a business and, as such, I hope that we'll both do our best to make it a profitable one.'

'I will do my very best,' Bunta promised.

'Good,' Itachi-san said, then, looking around himself briefly, probably to check that neither of the two mechanics could hear him, he added, 'listen, I know my son well enough to know that he can be a little problematic to deal with. I also know that while he's a fair racer, he's nowhere near as good as you are.'

'Itachi-san…'

'But, like I said, this is a business and I'm hoping that with your talent, you'll help Takashi overcome his own limitations.'

Bunta couldn't help but to stare at his employer in very badly masked disbelief.

'Er…'

'Please,' Itachi-san continued, 'can I count on you to help me make a real racer out of Takashi?'

For some mysterious reason, he found himself saying yes to the old man and, for the first time, Bunta saw which set of genes had given Midori her infamous ability to convince an Eskimo that he really needed a fridge.

'I knew I could rely on you!' Itachi-san exclaimed happily.

With a sinking feeling, he realised that he had just committed himself to doing something that was nothing short of a mission impossible: Itachi-san could have asked him to bring him a rock from the Moon and Bunta would have probably though it a much easier feat.

To be continued…