Kumiko flitted about her house, hanging small decorations, and preparing everything for Sawada's arrival. The entryway had a surprise balloon hanging in the rafters, which she intended to pop when he arrived. It was always wonderful when one of her students got into a university, and even if Sawada wasn't technically her student anymore, it still counted in her mind.
Her grandfather had advised against the balloon, but her mind couldn't be changed. He had said something about Sawada being an adult. After she set the last plate out for the dinner, she sat down by her grandfather. He was going over the paper, but some of his professional paperwork was lying beside him. He needed a break from the bombardment sometimes. "You are so headstrong Kumiko…just like your mother." He didn't look down from his paper, but Kumiko could feel his eyes.
"Isn't that why you loved both of us?" Kumiko retorted. Her grandfather smiled behind his paper, unable to deny her statement. She stacked his papers neatly, glancing over the business prospects. Even if she wasn't taking over the organization, she liked knowing her grandfather was successful. Most of the paperwork looked favorable.
She generally avoided specifics about the business, but since she had rescued Aiko, she paid attention to how well the Toua kai was fairing. Her grandfather had invested more energy in relations with the gang, much to the dismay of a few others. "How is Kiyoru doing?"
Kuroda folded part of his paper down, looking at Kumiko, the smile still on his face. "He is doing well as far as I know. He is still just a henchman so it's hard for me to arrange visits with him." Kumiko nodded. "However the Toua kai is thrilled with my interest in their group, so I can guess things are looking up for him." He winked at her before flipping the paper back up, absorbed in an article about the prime minister.
Feeling it was almost time for Sawada to arrive, Kumiko started flitting about the house again. Everything was in its proper place, and the dinner was smelling fantastic. Her grandfather and his advisors were gathering in their dining room. She thought about the surprise balloon in the rafters again, and couldn't help but want to skip a little bit. She couldn't let it be just another dinner after all, he had gotten back into Keio.
The bell chimed through the entryway, and Kumiko went charging through the house. Sawada braced for impact on the outside of the door, knowing Kumiko could mow him down. She nearly ripped the door off its hinges, and yanked him inside the entryway. Pulling the string, the hollow plastic shell dropped shiny bits of paper, and Kumiko shouted congratulations.
It felt like all his senses were being assaulted; she was being loud, his arms were now injured, and there were sparkles falling all over him. Sawada looked around at his feet, noting the sparkles. If Kumiko had been paying enough attention she would have seen irritation flash through his eyes. She wasn't. He nodded a kind of thanks and stepped out of the ring, picking a few bits out of his hair. If that was all he had to deal for the day, he would be grateful.
Her grandfather was watching from the hall, a sort of half smile on his face. "Congratulations Sawada." He said as Sawada slipped off his shoes and stepped into the hallway. It was simple and Sawada appreciated that. If only Kumiko understood. At least she hadn't saved it for dinner, picking colored pieces of paper out of his rice bowl didn't sound appetizing.
Kuroda led them down the hall way and into the dining area. A large pot sat in the middle of the table, the warm smell of fish, carrot and radish floating through the room. He sat down in the spot that seemed to be designated his, Kumiko sitting to his left. Sawada's bowl was filled first since they were celebrating him, and then slowly it went around the table. Kumiko was chattering in his ear, and he would nod the occasional yes or no to her, but mostly he was just tasked with listening.
She talked about her students, and their excitement at the end of the semester. For the time being she had listened to their input about not taking the students to different schools. He somehow doubted that it would last though; there was still a glow about her when she mentioned it. Perhaps it would be alright for their second year.
"Kiyoru stops by every so often, like you did." She finished a bit of rice before looking up at him. "I have hopes for him. He could get into Keio too. He's smart enough." The rest of the table nodded. "Maybe you can help him with that. It's still a few years away, but there's no reason to not start early."
"If he wants it, then I suppose I could help him." That 'if he wants it' part was important. He wasn't about to force anyone into anything because Kumiko though it was a good idea.
She didn't pay very much attention. "I'll talk with him when the school year starts again. Maybe you can tutor him for the entry exam." Her head was abuzz with new ideas.
They fished the last bits out of the hot pot, and Sawada sat back. He had gotten a larger stomach over the months, but still couldn't manage to eat like everyone else. The henchmen had already left the table, going about their evening chores. Kuroda excused himself to return to his paperwork. There was a quiet buzz around them, the household moving in the distance.
Kumiko leaned back on her arms. "You know Sawada, I really am proud of you." She looked over at him. "Graduating top of your high school class, getting into Keio, moving on your own to Africa, coming back to Japan, and getting into Keio again." It was strange for him to hear her praise him like that. "And you know what, you never told me about Africa."
He looked at the hot pot, the broth still steaming. He hadn't really told anybody about Africa. There were a million things to say, but he never wanted to approach them. Those were his times; he hadn't gone there for others to fawn over him.
Leaning forward, she poked him in the leg. "You know I'm not going to let you go without one story!" He pushed his hair out of his eyes, and took a deep breath.
Maybe one story would be alright. He just had to keep thinking of everything as being one last time. If it was goodbye, it might as well be memorable. "Okay." He leaned forward, trying not to fidget. "I arrived in a small town in Senegal about 8 months ago. We had finished work in Mali, and they had a new contract for us to build a…" The sound of bells interrupted him. Kumiko looked around, surprised at someone ringing right now.
"I'm sorry about that Sawada, please continue." She turned back toward him, assuming it was for her grandfather. He opened his mouth to start again, but before he could a head popped inside the door. "Shinohara!" Kumiko's eyes shined.
"Sorry to bother you, but I had a surprise. What's with the colored paper inside the entryway?" He scanned the room and locked eyes with Shin. "Oh, hello! I didn't expect to be interrupting."
Kumiko stood up and extended her hand. "Please join us, Sawada was telling me a story about Africa, so your surprise will have to wait a few minutes." Tomoya sat down across from him, bringing a strained silence with him. "Go ahead Sawada, you left off at something about a contract."
Another moment of irritation flashed through his eyes. He didn't need a reminder of his own story, not to mention the fact that it was a personal story that he wasn't particularly interested in telling Shinohara Tomoya. Something about Sawada's arrest record. Feigning concern about the time, he looked at his phone. Their eyes were a collective force, burrowing through him. The calm surface was breaking inside. "Actually, I should probably go. I have to help at Kuma's shop tomorrow, and Uchi is waiting to hear from me."
It took Shinohara half a second to understand. "But you have to finish the story!" Kumiko appealed to Sawada. "The beginning was already interesting." Her face was pouty, nose wrinkled and eyebrows up.
Shinohara placed a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure he can tell you another time." Kumiko stuck her lip out, dismayed by the surprise visit having a profound affect on her evening.
The hand was kindling to a flame. "I really should go Yankumi. Another time perhaps." He stood up rigidly and bowed quickly to both of them. Kumiko barely had time to stand up before Sawada was sliding his shoes on in the entryway. Shinohara had wondered where the slippers he normally used had gone until Sawada slid them off. She stuttered a swift goodbye to Sawada. He nodded curtly again on the way out the door, taking a few bits of shining paper with him. The couple watched as he disappeared, Kumiko stunned at the whirlwind.
He pulled the door closed gently behind him. He wasn't willing to slam it, more for respect of Kuroda than anything else. He passed through their gate, and his spirit hollowed out in his chest. Turning the corner his shoulders found the wooden wall, and he had no will to move. The anger was draining away, and the only thing left was a new regret. He hung his head, strangely intent on his feet. A pink sparkle caught his eye. He leaned down, examining the metallic sheet he had dragged out with him.
Looking at it seemed to pick his spirits up the smallest amount, so he stuck it in his pocket. At least that surprise balloon had been good for one thing. He stood up, not wanting to be caught standing outside their gate. Taking one last look at the wooden panels and ceramic roof tiles, he said goodbye.