Author's Note: Our internet line at home was disconnected a few days ago, and instead of moping around, I decided to finally get my act together and sit down to write the last chapter. It was a good idea, too: this is the only chapter that I wrote in one sitting, not including the final edits. I'm pretty proud of how it came out: I was scared it would be really hard, since I didn't have any particular outline for this chapter, except for the very last scene. This was actually the chapter that flowed most naturally - I just had to sit back and let it rip.
In other news, I've been asked a few times what eins, zwei, drei, vier, etc mean: they're one, two, three, four, etc in German. See, it's a sad story, but there's a nice little language lesson to go with it.
But, while I'm rambling, I'm going to take the time to thank everyone who showed their support for this story through its development. It really means a lot to me that this fic has been received well, since it is the story with which I made my - if you will - "return" to this site.
So, without further ado, I present to you the last chapter of After Goodbye. I hope you like it! :D
(Again, standard disclaimers apply; warning for some mild language.)
Kapitel Fünf (Chapter Five)
AN UNLIKELY DEPARTURE
There are parts of my tale that I have refused to disclose for reasons that even I cannot fathom. Sometimes it seems as if all these years, there remains in me a certain fear, that retelling these events will mean having to relive them, which is one of the many things in my life that I can do without. Other times, it feels like I am keeping a sweet and incriminating secret, a clandestine account of a tryst with chance that cannot be spoken of, lest it loses its magic.
Whatever my motives, the only thing I am certain of is that mine is a selfish silence: I save no face but my own with the things I keep. I am hoping, then, that my undoing will be just the same; that no one else but me will be denied forgiveness for divulging what I will now.
It was not easy for Fuuko to love me.
Granted, it wasn't easy for me to love her either. We began college the way we ended high school: less of her childish violence, for sure, but we were nothing but friends. She moved in different circles than I, at least during her first year and my second. Or should I say: she moved in circles, loose and loud and cheerful ones. I drew my circles tightly around texts and theses and grades, the things that I thought made me happy.
But I remember the way I ran into her in the middle of a bad rain, the way we sat together at a small and run-down coffee shop for lack of anyplace else to take cover beneath. I remember the way she talked to me, as if something in her had suddenly upped and left, or at least grown up. "I don't know if he was my first love," she said, referring to the bastard who had broken up with her the night before. "He was your first boyfriend," I told her; that's all, I had wanted to add.
It began there. The downpour didn't let up until two and a half hours later, and we had spent the whole time talking. In that short time, I'd come to know her better than the years we'd spent squabbling with each other in high school. She had looked past my shoulder at the window of the café and remarked, "The rain's stopped." And then, with her gaze on me, she said, "We should do this again sometime."
We did. It took two months for me to even realize I was falling in love with her, a month's struggle trying to deny it, and then one more month for me to actually do something about it. And the way I dealt with it then – I'll admit, it wasn't particularly graceful, but I'm proud of it.
I remember: my afternoon was free, so she had asked me to help her out with some research. We worked until sunset, and while we stood in front of the library, without any warning or ceremony whatsoever, I silenced her mid-thanks with our first kiss.
She had walked away from me. She had stared at me for two seconds in utter astonishment and then, without a word, had turned and walked briskly away. We didn't speak for three days, but when she finally showed up at my dorm room door, the first words out of my mouth were, "I'm sorry."
The first words out of hers was, "You shouldn't be," and then for a few moments, there were no words. Just an overdue kiss.
But as I've said: it wasn't easy for us to love each other. That first year together was a trial period, like a baby learning to walk. I learned all her annoying habits the hard way, the same way she learned mine. We weren't always happy, but when we were, it was as if everything in the world was beautiful, and nothing could ever hurt.
Sometimes I dream that I have traveled back in time, and I see my self during that difficult time when she and I had begun to drift because of my training. I shake my self again and again, and I tell him, Don't let go of her, but I find that my voice is gone, and I am displacing no silences, and I am breathing air that is as thick and heavy as my young doppelganger's surprise, so that when he opens his mouth and screams at the horror of finding the ghost of his future before him, I wake up in a cold sweat, shaking in bed.
Thirteen years. It's too long a time to keep anyone waiting. I tell everyone the reason I said nothing about my departure was that we were all inconsequential in each other's lives then. What I do not tell them is the other half of the story: I said nothing simply because I thought I was going to come back.
But I will never forget the view of Japan beneath us on the plane, and the sadness that sprang through me when I realized it was a one-way trip, a headlong plunge into uncertain territory. I thought it would be good for me. I thought I could start over.
God only knows how wrong I was.
It's ironic that someone who deals so expertly in life-saving and heart-mending has let his life go to waste and his heart board up its windows. When I'm not working, I'm reading or drinking or something else that's mundane and solitary, and if not, I'm fucking a strange woman who's just as lonely as I am, but I never tell any of them that. I think I've always known that none of my drunken conquests will ever come close to anything Fuuko and I had.
Even to this day I wonder why I left, despite knowing that.
It's the evening of my visit to Hanabishi's house, and I am wearing my best jacket with my favorite blue shirt. I have ordered an insanely expensive but extremely worth it three-course-meal for one at the hotel restaurant, plus the wine to go with it. I believe I have done all of this to distract myself from all the minor tragedies of coming back, which despite their ugliness don't even measure up to the disgustingly large implosion of Yanagi's death.
And of course, surprise of all surprises, here appears Fuuko, impossible and iridiscent in a low-cut black cocktail dress, while I am in the middle of my vanilla bean flan. Of all places, here, here, in the restaurant of the hotel where I'm staying.
She raises her eyebrows as I stare dumbly at her. "I, uh. Hi. This is where I'm staying."
"Funny, you think you would have mentioned that."
"Well, what are you doing here?"
She shrugs. "Dinner. The food here is good; I like to treat myself here when I'm in town."
A waiter comes up to her. "Do you have a table, ma'am?"
"Oh, she can sit with me," I tell him. She looks at me and says, "Yeah," to the waiter. He pulls out the chair opposite me for her, and she settles into it. He hands her a menu and bows out.
"Don't worry, I'm going to be gone in a while." I say to her. "That's a great dress, by the way – "
"Wait, what? You're not even going to stay?"
"Well, you caught me at dessert. And besides, I have to be up early tomorrow; I have a morning flight."
She puts down the menu. "You're leaving tomorrow."
"Yes. I thought I told you yesterday at the diner?"
"Yeah, I'd just. I forgot." She fiddles with the bracelet she's wearing. "Were you going to say goodbye this time?"
I look down at my dessert. "Well, yes. But I wasn't planning on doing it till tomorrow."
"Really." There's an edge to her voice. "What were you going to say?"
I shrug. "I was going to make it up as I go along."
"Obviously you have no experience with saying goodbye."
She says this, and it's a sharp-edged insult. I realize now that the edge in her voice was hurt.
"This is not the place to argue this again, Fuuko. Neither is it the time."
"Then when, Tokiya? After another eternity, when we're old and shriveled and dying, is that when you're going to come home?"
"Home is Berlin now."
"Bullshit!" she hisses at me, her voice quiet, but her eyes alight with anger. "I don't know what the fuck is wrong with you. You come here, acting as if you're sorry, asking how to keep in touch, looking as if you want another chance, and I was half-ready to give it to you. You son of a bitch. Hot one minute, cold the next; what am I supposed to do?"
"Fuuko." It's taking the best of my cool to not yell at her. "We can talk about this when I'm back in Germany. I need to clear my head. Tokyo has been a sensory overload. It's too much for me. When I'm in Berlin again, I will call you; we can thresh this out. You came here to have dinner, so have dinner – "
She cuts me off and signals a waiter, who comes forward. "Could you bring his check, please?" He asks if she wants to order. "No, thank you. I've lost my appetite."
When he leaves, I say, "Come on. Let's be rational about this."
"I am, Tokiya." She leans back in her seat. "In an hour, I'm going to be on a train back to Kyoto. I've packed all my bags, and the only thing left for me is to return to my hotel, change out of this ridiculous dress and get on that train. But before you and I part ways again, I will ask you one question." A pause. I know what it's going to be. "Do you want to be with me?"
I also know there is no easy answer. "It's not that simple, Fuuko."
"How can a yes or no not be that simple?"
"It's not like that." I look at her, and I am a fool. Yes, I want to say. But, but. "I have a life in Berlin."
"You had a life here. With me."
The waiter comes with my check, and I hand him my credit card. He hurries away with it.
"Just yes or no, Mi-chan. Do you want to be with me?"
I am a dead man. "Yes, Fuuko."
Her words rip through me: "Then call me," she says, "when you're ready to prove it."
She smooths out her dress as the waiter arrives with my card and the receipts I have to sign. I scrawl my name on the line, and she sits there watching me. When he is gone, we both rise.
"For the record, Tokiya," she declares in a pained voice, "I knew you were staying here. I came because I wanted to see you before we both left." She pauses to swallow a lump in her throat. "At least now we know which one of us really wanted to say goodbye."
I only answer with stunned silence. She wipes her eyes, and the world slows down as I watch her turn from me without a word.
This is not the first time she has walked out of my life. But in my head, I swear to myself that it will be the last.
It is five AM, and the sun is not yet out. I spent much of last night packing, and the rest sleeping fitfully. Waking up at four, I took a hot bath in the hopes of calming myself down. My flight leaves eleven-thirty, so I have to be at the airport at half-past-six. I'm scheduled to check out at five-thirty, so while I wait for the busboys to take my luggage down, I'm sitting at the foot of the bed, flipping through the television, hoping to find something to get my mind off Fuuko.
There's an old Christopher Reeve movie, early morning shows, MTV, the Food Network, an Oprah rerun, some local soap operas, Japanese baseball; I yield to CNN. Yawning idly, I wonder if the hotel will call a cab, like I'd arranged. Al Gore is being interviewed by Larry King in file footage.
I rub my forehead. Everything reminds me of her. I stare at the phone on the nightstand. Since last night, I've known what I was supposed to do. The only thing that escaped me was when I was supposed to do it.
And then, like some twisted prophet, Al Gore booms out, "We have to act now. If not, everything we love now will be gone in the future."
I hate to say he's right.
I reseat myself on the side of the bed and put my hand into my sweater pocket, pulling out her calling card. I think about calling her flat, but I realize I'm going to be tongue-tied if she answers, and I want this to go as smoothly as possible. Like a mirage, Larry King and Al Gore fade from the screen, and an anchorman tells me that the weather report will be with me after some announcements. I put the television on mute, pick up the phone, and start to dial her office.
The first time she spoke to me after I kissed her also marked a confession, which we would replicate in the years to come.
"What is it?"
"I think," she said, and then she laughed. "I think I love you."
For a moment or two, I was speechless, and then I started to laugh too. I cupped her face, not caring that anyone who might pass by my door would see us. Kirisawa Fuuko, my high school pet peeve and my gentle surprise, here and now and mine.
To hell with the rest of the world.
"I think," I began, and she smiled, knowing what was going to come next, "I think I love you, too."
You've reached Kirisawa Fuuko at the Yukawa Institute at Kyoto University. Please leave a message after the tone.
A sharp beep, and then, a split second of silence. No turning back now.
"Fuuko," I try, my voice shaking. "Fuuko, it's me. My plane for Berlin leaves at eleven. But this time…" I clear my throat. "It may take months, Fuuko. A year, even. There are things… I have to settle a lot. But I've decided." Finally, I've decided. "I'm coming home to Tokyo."
The confession is torn from me, released like a captive bird. After all these years, finally. "When I come back," I add, just before the machine cuts off, "I want to see you."
I put down the phone. My fingers are cold, and the blood is singing in my ears. I put the volume back on, and the green-eyed weatherman is telling me that Europe is having an unusual spell of rain. Germany is particularly wet, and there is video footage of Berlin. The streets are glum and full of puddles. It occurs to me that flights may be delayed, but it seems like a strange thought, as if it was coming from someone else's head.
I hear myself say it, over and over. I'm coming home to Tokyo. I want to see you. The moment is clear and liquid, like bright glass, as if I could peer through it and see all the other moments of my life lined up beyond it. I think, that would be nice, to see your life laid out so easily, but then again, where's the fun in that, now that there's so much ahead?
Now there is so much ahead.
There are resignations to turn in, supervisors to reason with, documents to take care of. I'm not sure how long it's going to take, but I'm going to get it done. The clock above the television tells me that it's five-ten. Twenty minutes. I have said my goodbye. But after goodbye… everything will begin again.
For now, however, all I have is this weather report and the inescapable silence following revelations and epiphanies. The weatherman is almost finished with his segment; he is doing a quick recap. I look out the window. It's only beginning to get light out: the night sky is shot with the pinks and yellows of dawn. I get off the bed and cross to the window, where I seat myself on the ledge. It's a beautiful morning.
I glance once at the weatherman, then turn the television off. Color seeps into the sky, and light is slowly pulling itself from beneath the horizon.
They tell me it is raining in Berlin.
I smile. They do not know: here in Tokyo, the sun is rising.
Well, that wasn't so sad, now, was it? ;) Haha! Thirteen years is a hell of a long time to come to one's senses, but at least Tokiya finally knows where he should be.
Well, everyone, it's been a wild ride for me - lots of late nights, a weeks-long bout of writer's block, hundreds of revisions, a lot of reading to get my spark back - but I had so much fun writing this. I hope you did, too, reading it. I'm extremely grateful there have been readers who have stuck with this story.
I hope I see you in my next fic - though I have no idea what that'll be yet, or when it will come. Haha. It's been a great run, minna. Cheers, and again, thank you. :)