Dreaming of Akina

Chapter Forty Seven

Not really knowing what else to do, Yuuichi looked at Bunta as though as he waited to see what his best friend would say and, probably because of that, the newcomer got the wrong idea and, putting his right hand forward, he offered Bunta a friendly enough simile and said:

'Nice to meet you Tachibana. My name is Sato Hiroyuki and I come from Tochigi.'

'Hi,' Bunta greeted giving him a handshake, 'it's nice meeting you too but, I'm not the man you're after,' he added then, pointing at Yuuichi with his thumb, he said, 'he is.'

'Ah,' Sato said, 'I see.'

'Hello,' Yuuichi said sounding as shy as whenever he spoke to someone he didn't know, 'er…what is it that you…well…how can I…'

'I'm a friend of Iwase Satoshi, from Saitama,' Sato interrupted him, 'you remember him, right?'

Yuuichi and Bunta exchanged a quick glance before Yuuichi looked back at Sato and, nodding, he said:

'I remember him, he was a really nice guy. How is he doing these days?'

'He's okay,' Sato said, 'but that's not why I'm here. Satoshi told me you were a good racer and I since I recently got into racing too, I wanted to know if you'd like to race against me.'

'Er…' Yuuichi started.

'Where would you want to race?' Bunta asked, interrupting his best friend.

'Well,' Sato replied, looking a little bit confused, 'I'm not familiar with this course,' he said making a gesture with his head, indicating the road which went down Mt Akina, 'but, I've been practicing for a while in my local one, you might have heard of it, it's called Momiji Lane.'

'I've heard of it,' Yuuichi said and Bunta thanked him for that for he, Bunta, really had no idea of which road Sato was talking about. Yet again, Bunta knew that Yuuichi had much better knowledge than he had when it came to the numerous passes and roads the Gunma prefecture had been graced with.

'Great,' Sato said, 'so, would you want to race me there?'

'Er…I…'

'Sorry,' Bunta interrupted him again, 'do you think you can give us a minute?'

Sato, once again, looked rather puzzled but since he obviously was as nice a guy as his friend Satoshi, he nodded a couple of times before making a gesture with his hand and say:

'Sure, go ahead…'

'Thanks,' Bunta said and, with this, he took Yuuichi by his arm, literally dragging him a few meters away from where Sato was so that they could be out of his hearing range. Once there, Bunta assumed his most serious expression and, using a low enough tone of voice, he said:

'I think you should take it.'

'Eh?'

'The challenge,' Bunta specified, 'take it.'

'What?' Yuuichi asked, 'but…I thought…you know, er…aren't we retired?'

'What are you talking about?' Bunta asked.

'You said we weren't going to do anymore street racing,' Yuuichi explained.

'No,' Bunta said, 'I said I wasn't going to do anymore street racing. I never said anything about you.'

'But…'

'Seriously,' Bunta said, 'he seems a decent enough guy, I think it'll be fun.'

Yuuichi stared at his best friend for a short time before his lips curled into a smile which was half way between amused and patronising then, letting out a sigh of resignation, he nodded and said:

'Yeah, I think I'll accept it. After all, we know how much you're missing street racing.'

'What?'

'Don't even try to deny it,' Yuuichi warned, 'I know you're now taking things seriously with your racing career and can no longer fool around with me and the Akina Firebolts but, hey, I know that, deep down, you'll always prefer street racing.'

As usual, Yuuichi was spot on and Bunta had to admit that he preferred the freedom that street racing gave him but, he also knew that street racing wasn't going to give him the official recognition as a racer that legally organised racing events could offer him. Not to mention that street racing wasn't anywhere near as profitable as professional racing was.

At any rate, while he didn't want to get involved in street racing, at least for the time being, there was nothing wrong with going to watch Yuuichi racing, was there?

'Come on,' Yuuichi said, 'let's go and accept this challenge…'

By the end of the evening, Yuuichi had agreed to go to Momiji Lane in the evening of the last Saturday of April, also because he wanted to have a good three weeks to go to Osaka and to prepare his car for its first race in a while.

'You look happy,' Eikichi commented when Bunta stepped into the shop.

'I am,' Bunta admitted and that made Eikichi stop cleaning the inside of the machine which was used to make the tofu and, putting the wet cloth down, he looked at his nephew and said:

'You know, I'm very proud of you.'

Bunta wouldn't have been any more shocked if his uncle had slapped him. He knew that the old man had got fractionally more affectionate with him ever since the angina but, that was a bit too much, wasn't it?

'The way you handled things at the circuit,' Eikichi elaborated seeing that his nephew wasn't talking, 'for a moment there I thought that you would hit that Takashi brat.'

'Yeah,' Bunta said, 'that's what I wanted to do…but…Itachi-san asked me to help Takashi,' he said leaning against one of the shop's large sinks.

'He did?'

'Yeah,' Bunta replied, 'I'm not sure why but I kind of agreed I would do my best so that Takashi could become a proper racer.'

Eikichi looked at his nephew with a flabbergasted expression on his face then, he let out an amused laugh and said:

'Ah, that rascal! He'll never change.'

'Eh?'

'Itachi-san really is a dangerous man,' Eikichi explained, 'never let him do any talking or he'll convince you to do anything he wants. Trust me, been there too.'

'I know,' Bunta said, 'his daughter isn't much better.'

'That's right,' Eikichi agreed, 'if anything, she's probably worse.'

'Why is that?' Bunta asked.

'Well,' Eikichi replied, 'she's a woman, isn't she? And a very beautiful one at that. With her looks and her father's persuasion powers it's little wonder how she's got you under her thumb.'

'Oi,' Bunta protested, 'she doesn't…'

'Yeah, right,' Eikichi interrupted him then, staring at his nephew in that insufferably superior way of his, then he smiled and said, 'let's have some dinner, shall we?'

Bunta shook his head in defeat and, knowing that his uncle was quite right even if he would never admit it, decided to follow the older man into the house's small kitchen so that the two Fujiwaras could fix themselves something to eat.

Almost a week later, Bunta and Midori were lying in bed at the same ryokan where they had stayed for that memorable first time when Midori lifted her head from Bunta's shoulder and, propping herself up on her elbow, she looked at her boyfriend and said:

'You know, I'm thinking of telling my father about us.'

Bunta had to make a super-human effort not to jump out of the bed.

'Er…'

'You know,' she repeated, 'I think he'll be happy if he finds out we're an item.'

'Er…'

'Also,' she continued, 'we've been together for almost a month now, haven't we?'

'Yes but…'

'Then I think it's okay if we tell him,' Midori decided. Bunta, as delicately as he could, pushed her away from him a little bit, just enough so that he could sit up on the bed, using the headrest for support. Midori also sat down next to him, folding her legs under her, not even bothering to cover herself up with the bedclothes.

This only made it more difficult for Bunta to say what he said next:

'Listen, I know that we're no longer on trial but, I seriously think that we should wait for a bit. I mean, we just started going out and…well, I'm just not sure that your father would approve of us being together.'

'He would,' Midori contradicted him, 'I'm sure he'll be happy for me.'

'Okay,' Bunta surrendered, 'let's do this: we wait for another two months. Then we'll tell everybody, okay?'

'Two more months?' Midori asked him, frowning her pretty eyebrows.

'Please,' Bunta begged her.

Midori looked down as though as she was considering her options very carefully then, thankfully giving in, she looked at him and, offering her sweetest, sexiest smile, she nodded and said:

'Okay, we'll do what you want.'

Bunta thanked the heavens for this. Somehow he had managed to buy himself two more months of mental tranquillity. Then the two of them lied down again with Midori's head back at resting against Bunta's shoulder.

'Yoshida-san is brining the car tomorrow,' the nineteen year old commented, eager to change the topic.

'I know,' Midori said, 'he told me. You'll take me for a drive with it, right?'

'Of course,' Bunta replied.

'Good,' Midori said and, with that, the two of them fell asleep with Bunta feeling eternally grateful that Eikichi had agreed to take care of the deliveries that night for, in all honesty, he loved being able to fall asleep with Midori's head on his shoulder and with him playing with her long, soft hair.

The morning after, the two of them had breakfast and then, as they had agreed with Yoshida, drove in Midori's little Consorte to Nitta-san's repairs shop where, predictably enough, the woman caused the usual commotion among the poor guys who worked at the place.

Bunta observed the not so subtle way in which his work colleagues stared at his girlfriend but, instead of feeling jealous, he just felt slightly embarrassed. Because of this, he cleared his throat unnecessarily loudly while he and Midori made their way to where Nitta-san was, standing right outside his office, checking some paperwork.

'Good morning Nitta-san,' Bunta greeted.

'Good morning,' the old man replied then, looking at Midori, he added, 'can I offer you anything to drink?'

'No thank you,' Midori said, 'we just had breakfast,' she then added making the poor Nitta-san do a double-take. Fortunately, the man had enough tact to ignore that last remark and, instead, he looked at Bunta and said:

'We got a couple of cars in this morning; can I count on you for this afternoon?'

'Sure,' Bunta said, 'I'll just take the 2000GT out for a quick spin but, after that I'm free all day, aren't I?' he then added glancing at Midori.

'Yes,' the woman replied, 'I'm going shopping with a couple of girlfriends.'

'Good,' Bunta said. This time Nitta-san could not help but to smile at the younger man with a fatherly expression on his face, he also seemed to want to say something but, he didn't have the time for, right at that moment, the three of them saw a super modern looking truck driving into the garage.

It was all white with the Toyota logo painted on both doors and, on top of it, it was carrying Bunta's pride and joy: his beloved Toyota 2000GT which, by the way, looked better than ever and it wasn't because Bunta hadn't seen his car in over two weeks; whatever those guys had done to it, it had been an outstanding job.

'Hey there,' Yoshida said while climbing out of the track's passenger's side, from the driver's one, Bunta saw another guy, slightly shorter but clearly older than Yoshida, 'Fujiwara, this is my good friend Katayama Nobuaki. He's the one who's been working on your car.'

'Nice meeting you,' Bunta said, shaking Katayama's hand while bowing in a very respectful manner, 'thanks a lot for your hard work.'

'No problem,' Katayama said, 'it was a pleasure as well as good training for me. I haven't worked on a 2000GT before.'

'He's just started working with us,' Yoshida explained, 'so he's eager to see as many models as possible. That said, I've been onboard of your car during the test drives and, let me tell you that it's a pity we didn't make any more super sports cars.'

'Yoshida,' Katayama said, 'you know that the country's economy isn't looking rosy. I think we should aim for smaller, more compact cars in the future.'

'I know,' Yoshida, 'I'm sure that we'll come up with something suitable soon enough.'

'Er…' Bunta started.

'Oh!' Katayama interrupted him, slapping his own forehead with his hand, 'I almost forgot, let's give this beauty back to its owner.'

Within a couple of minutes, everyone in the shop, from Nitta-san to Masashi, Yoshida and Katayama and a seemingly unimpressed Midori were staring at the car while Bunta climbed into it, turning the ignition key so that the newly installed engine would turn itself on.

Bunta didn't know what to expect but, it surely wasn't this: the new unit produced such a beautifully tuned sound that it could no longer be described as mere noise. It was music and Bunta thought that he would never get tired of listening to it.

'How is it?' Katayama asked him sounding very enthusiastic.

'I'm speechless,' Bunta confessed, 'this is…wow…I don't know what to say. Honestly, it's just…'

Yoshida let out an amused chuckle and, clasping Katayama's shoulder, he reassured his friend:

'He likes it.'

'Er…' Masashi intervened, 'can we take a look at…'

'Sure,' Bunta, Yoshida and Katayama replied at the same time then, Yoshida, looking first at Bunta then at Nitta-san, he added, 'can Fujiwara and us two have a quick word somewhere private?'

Nitta-san nodded and said:

'Of course, please do use my office, if you like.'

'Thank you for your consideration,' Yoshida said and then Bunta, only half-willingly, turned the new engine off, climbed out of the car and following Yoshida and Katayama, he left Nitta-san and his work colleagues inspecting his baby so that they could see for themselves the fantastic work Katayama and his team had done with the 2000GT.

Once again, Midori showed Bunta that when she wanted, she knew what her place was and, instead of insisting on coming with them, she just stayed behind looking rather amused at the way the guys gasped all in unison when Nitta-san finally opened the car's hood.

'Don't worry,' Katayama said when he saw the longing way Bunta was looking at his car, 'you'll have plenty of time to get familiar with the new engine.'

'Yes, you will,' Yoshida agreed then, the minute all three of them were inside Nitta-san's office, he closed the door and said, 'now, I'm sure you want to know what your end of the deal is…'

'Of course,' Bunta said. Only then he allowed himself to feel slightly suspicious. This was all too good to be true and he felt rather afraid at what those two would ask of him in exchange for the work they had done on his car.

'Now,' Katayama started, 'as you know, we both work for Toyota and we both have just been put in charge of investigating new possible designs for the cars of the future…'

'…to do that,' Yoshida continued, 'we need to do a lot of testing, some of which is carried on by our professional racing teams as well as in our testing facilities. However, what Katayama and I have in mind is something that, officially speaking, cannot be done.'

'And that is?' Bunta asked cautiously.

'Midori told me that you're into street racing,' Yoshida started.

'I used to be,' Bunta hurried to say.

'Used to?' Katayama asked now looking rather concerned.

'Yes,' Bunta replied, 'nowadays I only use the car for my uncle's business. He runs a tofu shop and I do the deliveries for him most nights.'

'Ah…' Katayama gasped, 'that's unexpected.'

'Fujiwara,' Yoshida said, 'are you telling us that whenever you do the deliveries you drive your car normally?'

Bunta considered briefly lying to the two slightly older men but, since he was starting to understand what they wanted from him, he decided to tell them the truth:

'No, of course I don't. I've always used the deliveries to train myself. I know Akina's pass rather well so I always try to see if I can clear the whole thing faster.'

'Ah that's better,' Yoshida said and both he and Katayama looked relieved.

'What we want you to do,' Katayama said, 'is to make it a point to test the car's limits at every chance you get. Then, more or less regularly, we would check it out, maybe changing things if we feel like we can improve the whole thing. Of course, that would all be free of charge.'

'Let me get this straight,' Bunta said, 'all I need to do is to push the car to its limits?'

'Yes,' Yoshida replied, 'it should be simple enough, shouldn't it?'

'It is,' Bunta agreed, 'after all, it's what I've been doing up to now.'

'Brilliant,' Katayama said happily, 'needless to say, this is a secret that has to remain between the three of us. I don't think Toyota would be happy if they knew about this little project of ours so.'

'I get it,' Bunta said, 'I won't ever mention this to anyone…well, except my uncle. Can I tell him?'

'Sure you can,' Yoshida replied then, as an afterthought, he said, 'to Midori, just tell her that we've done it all free of charge because she's just that much charming. I'm sure that will please her enough to stop her from asking questions.'

Bunta nodded, marvelled at just how well this guy seemed to know Midori. Yet again, he had almost married the woman so that was to be expected.

'Fantastic,' Katayama said interrupting Bunta's train of thought then, offering his hand to him once again, he said, 'well, this, I think, it's the start of a magnificent partnership…'

Just as predicted, the car felt absolutely fantastic and it took Bunta just a quick drive down Mt Akina to see that they had not only replaced the engine but also had reconditioned the whole car in such a way that it was almost as though as the car was brand now.

'No,' he muttered, 'it's better than that.'

'What is that?' Midori asked from the passenger's side.

'Nothing,' Bunta replied, 'now, are you sure you want me to push it? It might get scary.'

Instead of replying, Midori let out one of her cute and sexy little giggles. Bunta smiled and, shifting himself over his seat, he readied himself to show to his girlfriend what this new baby of his could do all the while thinking that he couldn't wait to do that night's delivery when he'd be on his own and with the road all to himself.

Two weeks after getting his car back and after having beaten his own downhill record three times in a row, Bunta drove the 2000GT all to the Suzuka circuit where the Itachi Racing Team would be taking part in the second round of the Fuji Freshman Series.

This time he was on his own since Eikichi had decided to stay back in Shibukawa making Bunta rather worried but, maybe this was better, after all, he didn't want his uncle to overexert himself too much and a four and a half hour drive was more than what the old man could cope with these days.

When at long last he got to the circuit, nearly getting lost while trying to find the parking space assigned to the Fuji Freshman Series racers, he saw Itachi-san and his daughter talking to a couple of people. A bit further away, he could see the back of the team's Nissan which, obviously enough, had been fully repaired.

Then, sitting on top of a short wall, he saw Takashi looking rather depressed while Uesugi, one of the team's mechanics as well as Takashi's number one fanboy, was obviously doing his best to try cheer him up. Bunta smiled thinking about the possible, supremely trivial causes of the brat's latest tantrum when, all of a sudden, Itachi-san noticed his presence there.

'Bunta!' he exclaimed, looking as though as he had never been happier, this made Bunta feel very uneasy but, for the sake of keeping his good manners, he said:

'Good morning, Itachi-san.'

'Oh you silly, silly boy,' Itachi-san started, this time patting Bunta's shoulder in an affectionate, yet rather disturbing way. At this point, Bunta's brain had already started going in overdrive while trying to figure out what was happening around him then, taking a quick look at Midori's expression of accomplishment he slowly began to understand.

'Er…'

'You know,' Itachi-san said, 'if you wanted to date my daughter, all you needed to do is ask.'

'Eh?'

'After all,' the old man continued, 'I'm only too happy if a fine man like yourself takes her out every now and then.'

'Itachi-san…' a quickly panicking Bunta started.

'Bunta,' the old man interrupted him, 'I know you're as old-fashioned as I am with these things and that's a very good thing but, you don't really need my permission to date Midori. I'm sure she'll be happy to oblige, won't you dear?'

Midori nodded while she gave Bunta a super-sweet smile which, for some strange reason, made him feel like climbing back into his car and drive away from there as fast as he could.

To be continued…