Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Chapter 1 - Secrets and Lies
Far from the safe confines of Fuka Academy, and several blocks off the beaten path of the city's downtown vicinity, there exists another well-known area that is typically not discussed openly among the local population. Still, like clockwork, the Akasen region, or red-light district, would always start to come alive around nightfall. Though nowhere near the grand scale of Shinjuku's landmark Kabukicho region, one could still find a vast proliferation of strip clubs, sex shops, adult theaters, pachinko parlors, host and hostess clubs, and of course, the ubiquitous love hotel. Prostitution unquestionably thrived in these surroundings, and clearly, wherever such lucrative ventures could be found, the presence of Japan's infamous yakuza was assured, controlling a vast number of these insalubrious enterprises.
Regardless of all these illicit operations, the majority of the general population refused to be deterred, merely wishing to escape from their mundane lives and indulge themselves in a night of pure enjoyment. And after all, plenty of fun could still be had without engaging in any shady or illegal activities. The music scene was one such area, as evidenced by the numerous hip and trendy nightclubs that dotted the area. Rich, deep bass sounds could be heard emanating from one such club.
Appearing rather ramshackle from the outside, that look also seemed to carry over to the inside as one began to descend the stairs leading into the basement. It was definitely a bit on the grungy side, the peeling of paint being only one of many indicators. Yet its patrons did not frequent the place for its décor, they were there to be blown away by the rousing sounds of music. Ranging from classic and alternative rock to heavy metal, punk, and even rap, an eclectic mix could be heard from various indie bands that performed in the small, but unpretentious, establishment.
"You were definitely right about these guys, Takumi," a short, blonde-haired teen acknowledged, forced to shout at the top of his lungs just so his friend could hear him. "These guys definitely rock!"
"Told you!" Takumi cried out.
Bobbing their heads in time with the music, the two, along with the over three hundred other teenagers and young adults in attendance, found themselves deeply immersed in the rich sounds of the band Dying Breed, who were presently finishing up their last set.
Applauding wildly at the close of their last number, the crowd continued to go wild even as the group unplugged their instruments and departed the stage. Several spectators even began calling out for an encore, which they did not receive, much to their dismay.
"That was awesome!" Takumi's friend commented. "We should come here more often."
"I know, only, I just wish that I wouldn't have to sneak around to do it."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know how overprotective Akira can be at times?"
"Well she would positively freak out if she knew that I came to a place like this, especially considering the location."
"Oh come on, Takumi, I think you're exaggerating. I mean, you're practically seventeen now. I'm sure she wouldn't have a problem with it."
"You don't know Akira very well," he emphasized. "Look, Hajime, you've got to promise me that you won't tell Akira that we came here tonight. She thinks that I'm with you in your dorm room studying right now."
"You mean you lied to her?" Hajime was surprised to hear. "Wow, that's not like you at all, Takumi."
"I know, I know, and I hate myself for doing it, but I can never seem to have any fun otherwise."
"Man, that's rough."
"So just don't tell her, alright?"
"Okay, but then you have to promise not to tell Kyoko."
"Oh? Then you lied about where you were going too?"
"Not exactly. I just never told her what I was going to be doing this evening. But I'm sure that if she knew she would probably be upset with me."
"Man, you guys are pathetic!" a tall, goatee sporting teen commented from behind, having clearly overheard the two.
"Yoshida-sempai?" Takumi responded, turning around and immediately recognizing the scruffy-haired, third-year senior high student.
"Your girlfriends must really have you guys on a tight leash if you have to sneak around behind their backs just so you can have a little fun."
"Uh, no, it… it isn't like that," Hajime uneasily tried to explain.
"Hahaha. Relax, pal, I won't say anything to Kyoko-san," he assured him.
"How, how did you know that Kyoko was…"
"What, your girlfriend? We're in the same class together."
"And I gotta tell ya," Yoshida began, slyly jabbing Hajime in the side with his elbow and crudely remarking, "she is one hot smokin' mama. Way to go, my man! I can tell that you definitely like your ladies a tad older and more… experienced, if you know what I mean."
"So tell me," the crass teen insisted on knowing as he leaned in closer to Hajime's ear, clearly reeking of alcohol, "how is she?"
"You know what I'm talkin' about. Come on, man, don't keep me hangin'. She the kinda chick that 'puts out' and…"
"Uh, so, Yoshida-sempai," Takumi quickly interrupted, trying to change the subject as he could tell that it was making his friend quite uncomfortable, "you ever hear
Dying Breed's extended version of "My World Down" that they performed at the Greatful Sound festival? That cool bass riff halfway through really blew me away."
"Dude, I have the bootleg of that at home. It was totally righteous!" Yoshida was quick to agree, seeming impressed at Takumi's knowledge of the band. "Say, Tokiha-san, how come I ain't never seen you here before? You obviously have excellent taste in music. Oh wait, that's right, your girlfriend has you whipped."
"What? No, I…"
"Seriously, dude, I'd dump her sorry ass if she ever tries to tell you what you can and can't do. Course I can understand how difficult that might be if she's as hot a babe as Kyoko-san. Say, you still seeing that ninja chick?"
"Uh, yeah," Takumi responded a bit uneasily.
"So how long you two been going together?"
"Uh, a little over three years now."
"Damn! She must really do it for ya if you've been with her that long. And being a ninja, she must really like it rough. Am I right?"
Becoming extremely annoyed by all of his prying and blunt sexual inferences, Takumi was finally forced to remark, "Look, whether we 'do it' is totally irrelevant, and frankly, none of your damn business! My relationship with Akira is strictly…"
"Akira? Oh, snap! I just remembered," Yoshida suddenly realized. "She's the chick that used to dress up as a dude."
"Now look, I just told you that our relationship is none of your busin…"
"Oh man, no wonder you're not getting any. Dude, take my advice and dump the bitch, otherwise…"
"What did you just call her?" a now incensed Takumi questioned as he began clenching his fists.
"Hey, don't blame me. I can't help it if she's a…"
"Take it back!" Takumi demanded.
"I said, TAKE IT BACK!" Takumi now firmly insisted, prompting him to abruptly grab a hold of Yoshida's shirt collar.
"Big mistake, pal."
"Onii-chan!" a female voice sternly cried out.
Spying her brother from across the room, a dark-haired girl all decked out in black, gothic-lolita attire now began to approach the three. Accompanying her was another girl who had a well-proportioned slim figure, and, unlike her friend, appeared to have a gentle grace about her and was dressed much more conservatively.
"Murata-sempai," a relieved Hajime greeted the third-year student, concerned for his friend's safety. "How are you?"
"Oh, hey, Moriyama-san," the goth girl quickly acknowledged before turning her attention onto Takumi. "Well, Takumi-san, I never expected to see you in a place like this."
"Yumi-san," Takumi was surprised to see, prompting him to release Yoshida from his grip.
Walking up to her brother and observing his bloodshot eyes, she admonished, "Onii-chan, you're drunk! You better not be causing trouble for these two."
"Aww, back off, Yumi," her brother warned. "Besides, he's the one who started it. I was just trying to get him to come to grips with the fact that his girlfriend is a dyke."
"Why you…" came the angry response as the fist of an enraged Takumi now began to retaliate.
"No, Takumi, don't!" Hajime implored, grabbing a hold of his friend's arm.
"Hahahaha!" Yoshida laughed and then taunted, "You wanna hit me? Huh? Come on, I dare ya!"
Glancing over at Hajime who was shaking his head and trying to dissuade him, Takumi finally regained his cool and lowered his arm, realizing that it wasn't worth it.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Yoshida said with disdain.
Yet the moment Takumi began to turn his back, Yoshida stepped in and took a swipe at him, landing a hard right punch to the left side of Takumi's face.
"ONII-CHAN!" his sister harshly denounced. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Still conscious, but now badly shaken up, Takumi's initial reaction was one of surprise as he expected to be feeling the cold hard surface of the concrete floor at this point, considering that his body had been propelled backwards by the force of the blow. Instead, he felt rather relieved that something had come between him to cushion his fall. Reaching a hand up to feel his now rapidly swelling cheek, Takumi then came to the realization that someone else was supporting his body, feeling the softness and warmth of another person's arms.
"Are you okay?" a concerned voice asked.
Slowly tilting his head back, Takumi suddenly found himself gazing up into the shimmering brown eyes of the attractive young girl that had accompanied Yumi. With her long, silky blond hair cascading down to her shoulders, Takumi now became momentarily transfixed upon her kind-hearted expression. Suddenly he came to the realization of the awkward position that he was in, his back still resting up against the front of her body.
Leaping forward a few feet and then turning to face her, Takumi now became red from embarrassment as he quickly apologized, "Uh s… sorry. I didn't mean to… I mean… I hope I didn't hurt you."
"It's okay," she giggled, seeming genuinely amused by his shy and innocent reaction.
"Takumi, are you all right?" a concerned Hajime inquired.
"Huh?" was all the currently dumbstruck Takumi could manage to utter, seeming momentarily enchanted by the young girl's charm and beauty, practically causing him to forget the fact that he was in any pain.
"Takumi-san, I am so sorry," Yumi now came over and profusely apologized for her brother's behavior.
"Oh, ah, it's alright, really," Takumi managed to get out, finally coming out of his stupor. "Besides, I kind of provoked him when I grabbed him by the collar."
"Still, that's no excuse for his behavior," Yumi maintained. "I heard what he called Okuzaki-san and thought it was absolutely abhorrent. Drunk or sober, it's inexcusable. I actually wish that you had hit him, it would have served him right."
"Oh my, your cheek is really starting to swell up," Yumi's friend observed. "You really should put some ice on that."
"She's right," Yumi agreed, then added, "Oh, I'm sorry, I haven't introduced you yet. This is my cousin Hiromi Misawa. Hiromi, this is Takumi Tokiha and his friend Hajime Moriyama; they're both second-year senior high students at Fuka Academy."
"Pleased to meet you," Hiromi greeted.
"Hiromi just moved here," Yumi explained. "I just helped her get moved in to her dorm room this afternoon and wanted to show her a good time tonight. Unfortunately, when my stupid brother found out where we were going, he insisted on tagging along."
Noticing Takumi wince as he attempted to smile, Hajime offered, "I'll go see if I can get some ice from the bar for you."
"Thanks," Takumi replied, turning then to Hiromi, "So Misawa-sempai, I take it then that you'll you be attending Fuka Academy?"
"That's right. In fact, I start on Monday," Hiromi informed him. Then giggling somewhat, she corrected, "But I'm not your sempai. I'll actually be in the same grade as you and Moriyama-san."
"Oh, well that's cool. Anyway, I'm sure you'll really like it there and make a lot of new friends."
"I'm sure I will, especially if they're all as sweet as you are."
"Uhh…" Takumi blushed.
"Hiromi, you're embarrassing him," Yumi warned, but then offered, "Of course, as I recall, it didn't take much to activate those rosy cheeks of his."
"Really?" Hiromi was intrigued to hear. "So how do you two know each other exactly?"
"Oh, ah, two years ago Yumi-san used to be in the cooking club with me," Takumi informed her.
"That's right. And since he was the only guy in the entire club, us girls used to tease him about it and would sometimes sneak up and hug him from behind to see who could make him blush the reddest."
"Oh, Yumi, that's terrible."
"Yes, but I caught onto them," Takumi then recalled. "Flour, you see, makes a great concealer. Fight fire with fire, I always say. Or in this case, flour."
Weak as it may have been, Hiromi couldn't help but to smile at his little joke.
"Here you go, Takumi," Hajime said, now returning as he handed him an ice-filled plastic cup.
"Thanks, Hajime," Takumi replied, placing the cold cup up against his cheek.
"Oh that won't do," Hiromi contended, observing how the cup only covered a small fraction of his cheek. "Here, let me have that."
Pulling out a large handkerchief, Hiromi proceeded to pour the ice into the center of it, tying the four corners of it together afterwards and forming a makeshift icepack.
"Here you go, this should work much better."
"Thanks, Misawa-san," a grateful Takumi replied, placing the ice-filled handkerchief upon the swollen half of his face.
"You're quite welcome. And please, call me Hiromi."
"Uh, s… sure, okay," Takumi nervously responded, then reciprocated, "And uh, you can call me, Takumi."
"Um, Takumi?" Hajime tried to get his somewhat smitten friend's attention. "I really think we need to go."
"Oh, ah, right."
"And for your sake," Hajime stressed, "I sure hope that swelling goes down by Monday. If Akira were to find out that you got into a fight, she'll go ballistic and send you into orbit."
"Oh, Hajime, don't exaggerate. I'm sure it'll be…" Takumi then paused as he noticed Hiromi covering her mouth, trying to contain her laughter. "What's so funny?"
"I… I'm sorry, Takumi-san," Hiromi chuckled, "but when Moriyama-san mentioned your girlfriend sending you into orbit, a mental picture just popped into my head. It's silly I know, and maybe it's because I just re-watched the anime, but the whole thing reminded me of all those times when Naru socks Keitaro and sends him flying in the anime…"
"Love Hina!" Takumi enthusiastically responded.
"Oh, you've seen it?"
"I love that anime! That, and Ken Akamatsu's other series, 'Negima'."
"Really? Me too!"
"No kidding," Takumi was surprised to hear. "Akira hates those kinds of anime, you know, where the guy somehow manages to end up with an entire harem of cute girls."
"Not me. I don't mind them at all. In fact, I get a big kick out of them."
"Wow. You know, I think you're the first girl I've met who actually likes…"
"Uh, Takumi," Hajime tried to re-emphasize by pointing to his watch.
"Oh, right, sorry," he apologized to his friend. Then re-addressing Hiromi he added, "Well, I really need to go. But I guess I'll see in school on Monday."
"I look forward to that," Hiromi eagerly replied. Then sounding a bit more concerned she asked, "So are you sure that you're alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Although…" Takumi began to assure her, but then removed the icepack and began to feel around the inside of his mouth with his tongue. "Hmm, I don't think I'm missing any but… wait… oh, sorry, false alarm. Yup, they're all there."
"Oh, Takumi-san, you're so silly," Hiromi chuckled, amused by his charming wit and innocent smile, prompting Hajime to simply roll his eyes at their seemingly nauseating display of affection.
"Bye, Takumi-san," Yumi bid him. "And sorry again about my idiotic brother."
"See you all on Monday," Takumi replied as he started to leave, but then stopped suddenly and looked to Hiromi as he recalled, "Oh, and I'll make sure and return your handkerchief to you then as well."
"Don't worry about it," Hiromi reassured him. "But if you'd like, you could just drop it off at my dorm room whenever you'd like. I'm in room 531."
"Takumi, let's go!" Hajime implored, trying to prod his now speechless friend along by tugging on his arm.
"Uh, right, coming," he finally responded as the two then departed and headed back up the stairs.
Yumi, meanwhile, just looked at her cousin in amazement, prompting her to remark, "Hiromi, I can't believe you!"
"Don't what me. You were flirting with him!"
"Oh? Was I?"
"Need I remind you that he already has a girlfriend."
"Yeah I know, but he was just so cute and charming that I guess I kind of forgot about that. Sorry."
"Believe me, a lot of girls are attracted to him, but he seems to have devoted himself to one particular girl and has been seeing her for the past three years now."
"Wow, that is devotion," Hiromi was surprised to hear.
Now exiting the premises, Hajime stopped his friend along the sidewalk and demanded to know, "Okay, what the hell was that back there?"
"Wha… what are you talking about?"
Clearing his throat, Hajime raised his voice an entire octave as he began to mock, "Oh, Takumi-san, you're so silly."
"So, can I help it if she thinks I'm witty."
"She was totally coming on to you, man! And you weren't exactly helping matters," he insisted, as he then began to mock in a bit of a lower tone, "Oh, I don't think I'm missing any… wait… yup, they're all there. Give me a break!"
"Look, I wasn't trying to flirt with her if that's what you're getting at. I was just making small talk."
"Small talk, huh? You practically blew Akira off when you found out that she had the same taste in anime as you do."
"No I didn't. I was just trying to…"
"And then to top it all off, by blatantly giving out her room number like that, she was practically begging for you to come up to her dorm room."
"Well I have no intention of doing that!" he defensively shot back. "I would never…"
"Hey, calm down. I know you wouldn't," his friend tried to reassure him. "Look, I don't mean to give you a hard time, but you and Akira have been together for so long that I'd hate to see anything come between that relationship."
"Don't worry, nothing's going to," Takumi confidently stated.
"Listen, I'm sorry that I interfered back there. I should have just let you slug that jerk in the mouth instead of trying to stop you."
"Oh, don't worry about it, really. I'm actually kind of glad that you did stop me. I've never really been a violent person and I don't wish to start now."
"You know, now that I think about it," Hajime noted, "In all the years that I've known you, I've never once seen you lose your temper like that, let alone grab a hold of someone."
"That's because I haven't."
"Exactly. So for someone to get you all riled up like that, you've got to feel really passionate about something, or in this case, someone. Very passionate, indeed."
Observing the sympathetic smile that his friend was now giving him, Takumi gave pause and then reciprocated the gesture, adding, "You're definitely right about that, my friend."
"So what are you going to do now, about Akira I mean? You gonna tell her what happened?"
Sighing heavily, Takumi reluctantly replied, "Yeah, I have to. I can't lie to her."
"Well, you're a braver man than I am, Takumi," Hajime professed.
Now stepping out and coming around to face his friend directly, Hajime curiously began examining Takumi's face.
"What's the matter, is my face starting to swell up some more?"
"No, no, I'm just trying to imagine what you're going to look like come Monday after Akira gives you a matching bruise."
Finally arriving back at his dorm room, a now exhausted Takumi headed over to the kitchen sink and carefully began undoing the knot in Hiromi's handkerchief. Emptying what was left of the ice into the sink, he carefully wrung out the excess water and gently laid the finely embroidered cotton material along his dish rack so that it could dry overnight. Too tired, he promised himself that he would properly wash it tomorrow.
After getting some fresh ice out of the freezer and placing it in a zip-top bag, Takumi proceeded to press it up against his left cheek, wincing in pain when it first made contact with his skin.
Removing his shirt as he started to get changed and ready for bed, Takumi walked into his bathroom where he now got a first hand look at the results of his actions this evening. Temporarily setting the icepack down in the sink, he took a long hard look at the now very swollen, as well as black and blue bruise, on his left cheek.
"Damn!" he cursed himself. "Akira's gonna kill me."
Early the following morning, as he finished hand washing Hiromi's handkerchief in his bathroom sink, Takumi couldn't help but to glance up into his mirror from time to time, somehow hoping that the normal color in his cheek would miraculously return. Somewhat worried and still uncertain how he was going to explain this to Akira, he even began to contemplate staying home from school the following day just so that he could avoid having her see him like this, and also to give his bruise some more time to heal. He was naturally a bit jumpy and reacted accordingly when he heard his telephone ring. Quickly wringing out the excess water from the handkerchief and then hanging it on the shower rod to dry, Takumi then apprehensively proceeded to answer the phone.
"Morning, Takumi, how's it going?" came the familiar voice that he ordinarily cherished hearing, only to be dreading it at this moment.
"Oh, ah, hey, Akira."
"I just wanted to ask if you wanted to have lunch somewhere before the movie starts or would you rather wait until after it's over to eat?"
"Movie?" Takumi attempted to recall before suddenly realizing, "Oh no, that was today?"
"What, don't tell me you forgot?"
"N… not exactly, I just had other things on my mind and…"
"Takumi, are you feeling all right? Your voice sounds a little funny," Akira commented, recognizing the slight change in his speech that was obviously due to the swelling.
Not knowing how to respond, Takumi in a panic simply blurted out the first thing that came to mind, "Uh, actually, I have been feeling a bit light-headed since last night. I think I may be coming down with something. There must be a bug going around."
"Oh, well I'm sorry to hear that," Akira sympathized. "Obviously the movie's off then, so why don't I just come on over and…"
"No! Don't do that!" Takumi anxiously shot back.
"It's just… I'm sure that I'm probably contagious and I don't want to have you get sick too."
"Don't be ridiculous. Contagious or not, do you know how many times you've sat with me when I've been sick? Look, you just lay back and get some rest and I'll take care of you. I'm just gonna run to the market to get a few things and then I'll be over to make you some lunch."
"Uh, really, Akira, that's not…"
"See you in a little while."
"…necessary," he trailed off, hearing the click on the other end of the line. "Crap! Now what am I going to do?"
"Takumi?" Akira's voice could be heard from the opposite side of his door, accompanied by a gentle knock.
"It's open, Akira," Takumi called to her.
Carrying a bag of groceries, Akira first went over to his kitchen and set them down on the counter. As she then came out to check up on him, she noticed him sitting at his dining table, his head covered by a towel, and hunched over a vaporizer.
"So, uh, how are you feeling?" she asked with concern, now standing alongside him as the steam from the vaporizer wafted up past her.
"Okay, I guess," he replied from under the towel. "The steam really helps though."
"Oh, well that's good. Listen, I'm going to make you some soup. You think you can eat anything right now?"
"Uh, yeah, I think I can manage. But honestly, you really don't have to."
"Look, I already told you, so I don't want to hear another word about it."
"Okay," he finally relented.
"Alright then. Now I'm just going to use your bathroom first and then I'll get started. You just relax and keep your head under that thing and leave everything to me."
"Thank you, Akira."
Before he could even inhale his next breath of steam, Takumi's head suddenly shot up in panic, realizing that Hiromi's handkerchief was still hanging on his shower rod. Poking his head out from under the towel, he discreetly observed as Akira came back out and headed over toward the kitchen. Figuring that since she hadn't immediately questioned him about it, she must not have noticed it, allowing him to breathe a sigh of relief.
Meanwhile, Akira began to empty a can of soup into a saucepan and proceeded to heat it up. After also putting a kettle of water on the stove to prepare some tea, she then decided to throw some rice in the rice cooker and make some onigiri so that he would have something to eat later on if he got hungry.
Within a few minutes she decided to check up on him, only to notice that he was now gone, the steam still rising though from the vaporizer.
"Takumi, are you okay?" she now came over and called to him from outside the closed door of his bedroom.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just getting changed."
"Okay, well, the soup's almost ready."
"Thanks. Be out in a minute."
When he re-emerged from the bedroom, Takumi now sported a hooded sweatshirt, its drawstrings tautly pulled so that the hood obscured the vast majority of his face, leaving only a small portion of his bruise that wasn't concealed.
As he sat down to eat, he was still careful to keep his face turned slightly to the left so that she wouldn't notice it. Seated on the opposite side of the table, Akira began to look a bit peculiarly at him.
"Takumi, how can you wear that thing? Are you that cold?"
"Uh, actually, I just started feeling a bit chilly after finishing with the vaporizer. I think I may be running a fever."
"Well that's not good," she worriedly remarked, then observed, "Although, you seem to be sweating quite a bit. Maybe you should at least remove the hood."
"Ah, no, it ah… it's fine, really. Anyway, I just wanted to say that this soup is delicious. Thank you, Akira," he complimented, hoping that his praise would avert any suspicion that she might be having.
"Uh, thanks, but it's just canned soup."
"Oh, well regardless, it's still very good."
For someone who usually makes soup from scratch, even she knew that it was kind of an unusual comment for him to make. Her suspicions became even more aroused when she began to notice that he seemed to be avoiding making direct eye contact with her, always keeping his head turned to one side.
"Takumi, what's wrong? You've been avoiding looking at me this whole time."
"Have I? I uh, didn't realize I was doing that. Sorry."
Frustrated, Akira now got up and walked over to him. Yanking the hood off of his head, she gasped in horror at what she now saw.
"Takumi, wha… what on earth happened to you?"
Realizing that he could no longer hide it, Takumi sighed heavily and confessed, "Alright look, I kind of got into a little scuffle last night, so please try not to make a big deal out of this. It's just a little bruise."
"Little? I wouldn't exactly call that bruise little. Wait, you said you were studying with Hajime last night. Don't tell me that you got into a fight with him?"
"No, no, nothing like that."
"Well then what? Takumi, please, tell me what happened."
"Uh, you see I, that is, me and Hajime, we weren't exactly studying, per se."
"Oh? Well then what were you doing?"
"We were… uh, that is to say, we kind of went out to a nightclub. So in a way I guess you could say that we were studying music. Ha, ha, ha… ha…" Takumi weakly laughed, his poor attempt at levity only met with disdain from Akira.
"So you went to a nightclub and wound up getting into a fight with someone," a not too amused Akira inquired.
"Look, I wanted to tell you, but I knew if told you that the nightclub was located in the Akasen district that you would probably…"
"Takumi, have you lost your mind? What were you thinking in going to such an area?"
"Now see, this is precisely why I didn't want to tell you. I knew you would get all bent of shape and try to prevent me from going."
"Gee, you think? Strip clubs and bars, drugs, prostitution… damn right I would have stopped you!"
"Oh come on, Akira," he argued, "it's not that big a deal. Besides, I didn't go there for any of that stuff, I went to hear some really cool bands play."
"But in the most crime-ridden part of town, of all places."
"Well I know it's not exactly a garden spot, but it's also not as bad as you make it out to be. Besides, there were other students there too."
"Yeah, third-year students probably."
"Yeah, so? Look, I'm seventeen now and…"
"Sixteen," Akira corrected. "Your birthday's still a month away."
"Whatever! The point is I think I'm old enough to decide where I can and can't go. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
"Oh yeah, you're doing a real bang up job of that," Akira sarcastically remarked, lightly poking at his bruise with her finger.
"Ow! Akira!" he said sounding rather annoyed. "And besides, I only got this because some guy was being a jerk by mouthing off about… look, I don't even want to talk about that, the point is…"
"The point is," she emphasized, "is that you lied to me, telling me that you were studying with Hajime."
"Well what choice did I have? I knew you weren't going to let me go."
"So you chose to lie about it? And then to make matters worse, you tried to cover up that lie with yet another one. What, you thought that by pretending that you were sick that you would somehow keep me from finding out about… this?"
Poking at his cheek yet again, this time with a little more force, Takumi became even more irritated as he yelled out, "OWW! Akira, cut it out!"
"Oh I'm sorry, did that hurt?" she taunted. "I don't see how it would. After all, you did say that it was just a little bruise. Oh wait, that was probably a lie too."
"Look, I'm sorry, but I didn't know what else to do. The fact is you didn't really give me much of a choice in the matter. I can never seem to go anywhere fun without you always…"
A knocking at his door then abruptly cut off his argument.
"Probably Hajime," Takumi thought as he went to answer it.
Taking a cursory glance through the door's peephole, Takumi just about did a double take when he saw who was on the opposite side.
"Aren't you going to answer it?" Akira asked, thinking that he was acting even more strangely than before.
"Uh, it's no one important," Takumi nervously tried to cover up. "Just some student trying to sell magazine subscriptions.
"Takumi-kun?" a young girl's voice now came from behind the door, followed by another knock.
Apprehensively opening the door a crack and sticking his head out, a jittery Takumi then announced, "Uh, I'm really sorry but I'm not interested in buying anything right now. Maybe some other time."
Putting particular emphasis on his last sentence, Takumi then quickly closed the door and did a one-eighty, his back now fallen up against it as if to try and hold the door shut.
Appearing extremely guilty as though he were trying to hide something, Akira just stared suspiciously at him with her arms folded.
"Oh, Takumi-kun, you're such a kidder," the voice came again. "Come on, let me in."
"Yes, Takumi-kun, by all means," Akira mocked, observing his worried expression and now bulging eyes, "let the poor girl in."
As he slowly opened the door, the girl started to disclose, "You know I went through a lot of trouble trying to find out where you lived. I wish you had just told me last night at the same time I gave you my dorm room number. The truth is, and this may sound selfish, but I was secretly hoping that you might actually stop by and…"
The door now fully opened, the girl suddenly noticed Akira standing there with a rather cross look on her face.
"Oh, ah, I'm sorry," she apologetically offered, "I thought you were alone. Hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"No, ah, it's okay, really," Takumi assured her, then awkwardly began to introduce, "Um, Akira, this is Hiromi. Hiromi, uhh…"
"Misawa," she reminded him.
"Oh, right. Sorry," he clumsily retorted. "Hiromi Misawa. And uh, Hiromi-san, this is Akira, Akira Okuzaki, my uh, girlfriend."
"That remains to be seen," Akira mumbled under her breath.
"Uh, it… it's a pleasure to meet you Okuzaki-san."
"Hmmm," was all that an extremely perturbed Akira could muster as she continued to scrutinize the girl.
"Uh, Hiromi just moved here," Takumi explained. "She's Yoshida and Yumi-sempai's cousin. I met her this evening at the nightclub. She'll be starting at Fuka Academy tomorrow."
"Well isn't that just wonderful," Akira cynically remarked.
"So uh, Okuzaki-san," Hiromi attempted to strike up a conversation, "I hear that you and Takumi-kun have been seeing each other for over three years now. Is that really true?"
"Well not that it's any of your business, but yes, it is true."
"Oh I just think that's so wonderful," Hiromi cheerfully proclaimed, "and I'm truly happy for the two of you. You're so lucky."
"Oh yeah, lucky," Akira sarcastically remarked. "Course if you consider being lied to and cheated on lucky, then I must be the luckiest girl in the world."
"Uhh… perhaps, perhaps I'd better go," Hiromi uncomfortably announced. "I've obviously come at a bad time. I'm sorry, I do hope that I haven't caused you any trouble."
"No, don't be silly. You've done nothing wrong," Takumi assured her, who then cast an accusatory glance over at Akira. "Besides, it's not you that's causing the trouble."
Witnessing the contemptuous facial expressions that the two were now giving each other, Hiromi uneasily offered, "Uh, I guess I'll, uh, see you in school tomorrow, Takumi-kun."
"Right. Well, goodbye, Hiromi-san," Takumi bid her. Then shooting a glance over at Akira he vengefully added, "In fact, I look forward to seeing you again."
Flashing him a smile upon hearing this, a very contented Hiromi then wished, "Take care of yourself and I hope you feel better. Uh, so long, Okuzaki-san."
"Humph!" Akira harshly turned her nose up at her.
Now closing the door behind him, Takumi then angrily turned to Akira and critically exclaimed, "Well that was rude! Could you possibly have made her feel any less welcome? What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Me? Oh, so now somehow this all my fault?" Akira defensively shot back. "First of all, I'm not the one trying cover my ass by lying about where I've been and getting into fights in places that I shouldn't have been at in the first place! And secondly, you're the one who started acting so suspiciously like you had something to hide when 'little miss sunshine' showed up. So don't go trying to turn this whole thing around and make it look like you're the victim in all of this. And considering that you supposedly just met, she sure seemed awfully chummy with you, Takumi-KUN. But then again, I shouldn't be surprised, considering where you met and the type of activity that goes on down there. I'm sure she's like that around every guy that she picks up."
"Oh now that is not fair, Akira! That is NOT FAIR!" an enraged Takumi vehemently declared. "You have no right to talk about her like that! You don't even know the first thing about her!"
"I know enough! In fact, I know that she told you her dorm room number. Like that's something that every girl gives out on her first encounter with a guy. So what else did she give you, Takumi?"
"What else did she… oh my god, nothing!" he defended, "Jeez, Akira, why do you always have to assume the worst in people? Okay, you wanna know why I lied about all of this and tried to hide it from you? It's because you always have this habit of blowing everything way out of proportion. If I wanna go somewhere, I always have to worry that it'll meet your approval first. It's gotten to the point where I'm actually afraid to even ask you anymore."
"Yes, afraid! Don't do this, don't do that," he mocked. "Or, it's not safe, Takumi, and, you might get hurt, Takumi. Well I'm sick of it! I'm tired of you telling me where I can and can't go, or for that matter, who I can hang out with!"
"What, and you think I enjoy doing that? I'm just as sick of it as you are! You always tend to just jump right into things, never thinking about the consequences. And it's always up to me to pick up the pieces whenever you screw up. It's like I'm always having to watch over you like a mamma hawk."
"Well who asked you to? I told you, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself, so I don't need you babying me anymore."
"Is that really how you feel, Takumi? You don't need me anymore?"
"Look, I didn't say that. I just… I just want my freedom, that's all."
"Freedom, huh? Well I think that can be arranged," Akira said as she stormed off, heading into his bathroom. Re-emerging a few seconds later, she proceeded to fling Hiromi's handkerchief at him, which she had just retrieved. "Here! You forgot to give her this!"
"So feel FREE to give it to her!"
"Uh, how did you…"
"The initials, Takumi, the initials," she pointed out, noting the embroidery. "I'm not blind you know. I can see what's going on."
"Going on? But there's nothing going on!" he insisted. "She just loaned that to me last night after I…"
"You know what, I really don't care anymore," she now weakly replied. "In fact, I just can't take anything you say seriously anymore. You said that you were studying with Hajime last night. That was a lie. You told me you weren't feeling well. That was a lie. And like a fool I fell for your little deception and even felt sorry for you, thinking that you were ill, only to discover that you were covering up for the fact that you had gotten into a fight. And now you tell me that there's nothing going on between you and this girl and you expect me to believe you?"
"But it's the truth!" he continued to persist.
"I wish I could believe you, Takumi, but I'm just too tired. Tired of arguing with you, tired of all the deception, and tired of trying to separate the truth from the lies."
"Akira, wha… what exactly are you saying?"
"I'm saying that perhaps… perhaps our relationship has been nothing but a lie."
"What?" he now gasped in horror. "I… I can't believe you just said that!"
"I know it hasn't always been like that, but lately… well, you said it yourself earlier how you're too afraid to even tell or ask me anything anymore. And what kind of a relationship is that? Relationships are supposed to be built on trust, Takumi."
"Akira…" he said with a heavy heart.
"Goodbye, Takumi," she somberly bid him.
Helplessly looking on as she departed, softly closing the door behind her, a thoroughly stunned Takumi now just stood motionless with a dumbfounded expression upon his face, staring blankly at the door. Slowly raising his hand, which was still clutching Hiromi's handkerchief, Takumi caught a glimpse of the embroidered initials H and M, all the while continuing to ponder his actions from the past twenty-four hours, reaching only one horrific conclusion.
"What have I done?"