At the Edge of the World
Disclaimer: CCS is not mine.
Chapter Forty - Nadeshiko
I change out of my uniform in a subway station bathroom. It is dingy and smells like stale urine. The cubicle is small and cramped; I stand as far away from the toilet as possible as I slip into my skirt, trying not to touch anything. I stuff my school uniform into my bag and nudge open the door before heading to the sinks, lined up against a wall on the far left. The tiles are a dirty aquamarine and my reflection in the grimy mirrors is blurry as I bend over to wash my hands, using the water to smooth my hair. I tug it out of its braid and tie it in a loose ponytail. I pull at the collar of my white blouse and sniff my chest self-consciously, wishing that I could have taken a shower. I am painfully aware that I look like a twelve-year old; what with my conservative clothes and practical mary-janes.
I am going to Kinomoto-sensei's house for the first time and am terrified beyond belief.
"Positive thoughts, Nadeshiko! Positive thoughts! Zettai daijoubu!"
The indistinct reflection of the girl in the mirror still looks pale and anxious. It's too late to turn back though, so will myself to be strong, turn on my heel and catch the next train to Towa.
Kinomoto-sensei lives in a small apartment building in the old, quiet centre of Towa town. It is tall and narrow and was probably once a bright red; though the elements have now weathered it down to an earthy pink. There is a bakery two doors down; the evening rush hurries in and out, carrying fresh loaves of bread in brown paper bags. The smell is delicious, comforting and makes me feel peculiarly homesick. It is lovely so I linger a while, absorbing the quiet bustle of the street. As evening falls electric shop signs flicker on, neon and fluorescent alike, their dull hum punctuated by the brisk clacking of heels on pavement as people return home from work. Venus appears in the milky twilight overhead and winks shyly at me; I take this as my cue to get moving, and finally walk up the chipped white stairs to Kinomoto-sensei's flat.
When he answers the door his hair is still damp from his evening shower, a towel slung carelessly around his shoulders. I feel a strange jolt because he is not dressed in his teaching clothes; instead he is wearing a pair of jeans and a forest-green sweater. I finally realise that oh, he's human after all, and feel a bit silly (because what else could he be?). My pulse begins to race.
"Ah, Nadeshiko," he says, seemingly surprised, though I know he's been expecting me. "Come in." He stands back to give me enough space to slide past; I slip off my shoes and leave them in the entrance area. I notice two suits, one brown and one navy blue, hanging from a row of hooks by the door.
His home is small and cramped; I take it in with a single glance. A darkwood table rests by the window overlooking the street, its surface completely taken up by piles of books and paper. The space beside it is occupied by three potted plants and a heavy chest. A low sofa, draped in a thick, deep blue quilt, squats comfortably opposite, flanked by two tall, overflowing bookshelves. Immediately to my right is a little kitchenette that shares its wall with a chest of drawers and what is presumably the bathroom.
Kinomoto-sensei rubs the back of his neck and smiles sheepishly; a telltale sign that I now know means he is embarrassed. I smile back tentatively.
He walks in to the kitchen and turns on an electric kettle. He busies himself, opening the cupboards above the sink.
"Oolong or black?" he asks. "I think I had a sachet of chamomile, too, but…"
"I only have tea bags left, hope you don't mind…"
"No, not at all."
The air is tense and awkward as Kinomoto-sensei leaves me standing stupidly in the doorway. Don't be such a coward, Nade-baka. I make my way across the room and peer curiously at the contents of his bookshelves, which heavily feature his love of history – I brush my forefinger down the spine of The Neolithic Revolution and drag it along the other titles; a collection of poetry, something called The History of the Nara, a couple of well-thumbed cook-books; I also find a few novels - The Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness; I find a book of Japanese folk tales; more fat history books and a trashy romance novel with a lurid purple cover, called The Travails of Lotta Sparks: In the Heart of the Machine. I giggle.
"I take it you've found something amusing?" says Kinomoto-sensei, who clearly heard me.
"A soft spot for science fiction, huh?" I grin, waving the offending piece of literature.
He sticks his head out of the door and groans. "That's not mine."
"How embarrassing," he sighs, walking out of the kitchen holding two yellow mugs of steaming oolong tea.
"Is it any good, at least?"
He narrows his eyes and studies me with quiet suspicion. "It's terrible," he finally concedes.
"So you have read it!"
"You will take this secret to your grave, of course."
"Perhaps," I smile sweetly, "for a price."
"And people think you're so innocent."
"I was," I quip cheekily, "until I met you."
"Well now, that's a shame."
Kinomoto-sensei's voice slips to a deeper octave. The space between us seems to have shrunk and he is close enough for me to smell the lingering scent of his shampoo. I shiver involuntarily. My heart flutters in my chest.
"Kiss me, please?"
His lips quirk to one side, revealing the dimple in his cheek. "Since you asked so nicely," he says huskily, and obliges.
I slip my arms around his neck as he bends to meet me, only half-aware that he's still holding two scalding mugs of tea. We push in to each other until it seems like we've moulded together. Everything is hot and my head is reeling and something electrifying runs through my body and my brain thinks not close enough and the world is spinning around us. He pulls away for an instant and sets our mugs on the edge of the book shelf. He impatiently tosses his glasses aside before snaking his arms around my waist. We move together until the back of his knees finds the edge of the sofa and when he falls, I follow. He moans as I crawl in to his lap and straddle his thighs, and suddenly his mouth is on my throat and he is pulling my blouse from my skirt and then his hands are on my skin traveling up my back and everything is so hot that I can't help but gasp. Things have never been like this and the intensity of it all makes me feel scared and excited and I'm not sure how to react to his fingers brushing against my chest and-
"S-sensei!" I pant, "S-sensei! Stop!"
His fingers clutch tightly at my waist as he rests his forehead against my collarbone. His breathing is heavy and ragged to match my own. He squeezes his eyes shut and releases a lungful of air, warm against my skin. He pulls back to look at me and I feel my face burn. His hair is disheveled and his cheeks are flushed and he looks so lovely that I suddenly feel like kissing him all over again.
"I'm sorry," he says with a tight smile. "I got a little carried away."
"It's okay." I drop chaste kisses on to his lips and he sips at my mouth, sliding his hands from under my shirt. I slip off his lap and curl into his side, resting my head on his shoulder. My fingers intertwine hesitantly with his own as he presses a kiss to my forehead. We then quietly watch the evening darken to dusk, holding each other in the fading light.
What are we doing? What I am to him? I don't know how any of this is supposed to work. I guess I should be feeling guilty - and I am, but not by much - because I feel so content that it's difficult to imagine we're doing something wrong. I know we're doing something illegal; something no-one could possibly understand, so dooming us to secrecy and a life in the shadows. My mind whirls with all the ways this scenario could turn out - tender kisses, a white picket fence and two children on the one hand; on the other - disaster - and there are a hundred possible disastrous outcomes. Arrests. Inquiries. A ruined career. Two ruined lives. Perhaps the thing will implode; perhaps he'll grow tired of me and the distance will swell into something irreparable. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Our mingling scents are heady and comfortable. I press close against him and think about the way his eyes looked on the day we first kissed. I look up at the dim outline of his serious jaw, silhouetted in the darkness. We were supposed to talk things through (that's why I'm here, right?), but neither of us wants to bring it up. There is a time for talking, and it is not this moment. Kinomoto-sensei exhales slowly; I know we are thinking about the same thing. I squeeze his hand and he runs his thumb across my knuckles in gentle caress.
"Are you happy?"
Silence; then: "Aa."
And for a moment, everything is perfect.