Everyone was too busy enjoying the nice summer day. It was one of those days where the sun shone in a cloudless blue vault, and seemed so perfect for taking a stroll with a couple of ice-creams on hand and for the sensitive ladies a parasol. It was perfectly normal.
Yori Nagisa hadn't really expected so see anything unusual. Taking a shortcut through the park while walking home from her usual shopping center, carrying a a few bags of groceries, her heart was singing as she thought of her beautiful little daughter awaiting her at home. Envisioning Carly's happy little face and cute grey eyes gave her a sense of satisfaction, as if she thought that Carly was the greatest achievement she hd ever made in her life. A happy home, a wonderful daughter - what more could she want from life? She decided to rest under a tree as the sun felt too unbearably hot and sweat poured down her aching arms. The shopping bags felt like they were filled with lead and mercury.
It was she who first noticed the boy. A small boy who couldn't have been more than ten or eleven standing under a tree. He was leaning against it casually, an incongruous figure in grey jeans, trainers a white coat and a dark shirt almost hidden under the coat. He had spiky blonde hair and the most riveting violet eyes that caught the light like a perfectly cut amethyst in one of the expensive jewellery shops across the street. It was those eyes that caught her attention at first, they were absolutely beautiful.
She approached the tree cautiously. The boy was staring intently at something across the pathway, and so fixed was his attention that he didn't even notice the woman who collapsed underneath the same tree with a sigh.
"Hello!" Yori said brightly, relinquishing the bags with a sense of relief. It was her nature to be friendly and she often chatted with complete strangers, to the point of her being labeled talkative by most of her neighbours and friends. But she felt no shame. She believed that there were no strangers, only friends you hadn't met in the world.
The boy didn't seem to think so. He gave her the most cursory of glances and then returned to his single-minded contemplation. Yori felt puzzled and looked the way he was staring. There was a family there, a father and a mother with their two children. The father was swinging the little girl in the air and she was screaming with delight.
"Higher! Daddy faster!" she squealed. Her mother laughed and her son laughed too as he swung on a jungle gym like a monkey. They were just any ordinary family like the many dozens passing through, so she didn't really see the reason for the staring. A quick glance at the boy's face told a different story. There was a look of longing in the dark eyes, but the face was completely blank of any expression like a stone mask.
He was a handsome looking boy by all consideration but there ws something strange about him, Yori decided. Something that wasn't really there around other children. Whatever it was, she was pulled towards this blank-faced boy with the strange-colored amethyst chips for eyes. She wanted to know more about him.
"What's your name?" she asked carefully. The boy didn't seem to hear. She repeated the question.
"Hello? I asked what your name is!"
This time the boy reluctantly turned his eyes away from the family and fixed her with a piercing stare. Yori supressed her urge to shiver at the coldness in his eyes, beautiful as they were and it took all her willpower to keep staring back. Whenever she had looked into Carly's eyes there was just innocence and happiness. There was a toughness in this child's eyes that she had never seen before - this child had lost all the innocence of childhood.
He turned away and there was a momentary relief from the awful staring. She watched as he shed his jacket and threw it carelessly to the ground. His arms were pale and thin. In the shade, they looked almost sickly. She noticed a name tag on the jacket. JACK ATLAS, was written neatly in permanent marker.
"Jack Atlas?" she read and then looked at the boy. "Is Jack your name?"
The boy nodded without looking at her.
"Pleased to meet you Jack," Yori said. The boy nodded again. She felt another surge of curiosity. Who was this strange boy? Where did he come from? Why was he so silent?
"Are you mute?" she asked him. The boy slowly turned towards her and fixed her with another of his piercing stares. He shook his head.
"So you can talk?"
"Well why don't you?"
"Why are you alone here? Is someone with you?"
A shake of the head. Yori looked at him sympathetically.
"Are you lost?"
"You know where you are?"
"Do you come here often?"
"So do I," Yori sighed. "There's just something peaceful about this place. You can just relax and have a little fun...A place to unwind as such. Don't you agree?"
Jack nodded and she felt a surge of annoyance. Why, why, why was this boy so obstinate?
"I just love sitting here in the shade and watching the way the leaves dance with the wind. Did you know that they are the most graceful dance partners? The wind makes almost anything dance. When I was a child I used to dance whenever the wind was particularly strong and it was awfully fun! My mother used to give me a telling off, but I never stopped. Not until I got married anyway ha ha..."
She let her voice trail off. Jack had stopped listening and had returned to his staring. There was a jingle of bells a short way away.
"Ice-cream! Get your ice-cream, ice-cream for sale!" the man inside the ice-cream van yelled. Immediately, he was surrounded by a bunch of children clamouring and waving notes scrunched up in tiny fists. Yori had an idea.
"Ooh, I just love ice-cream," she exclaimed. "Do you Jack?"
"Tell you what, why don't I get us both some?" she said eagerly. Jack looked at her in surprise. "Come on, grab your jacket and we'll take a walk while eating it."
Jack slowly gathered up his jacket and knotted it around his skinny waist. Unthinkingly, Yori grasped his hand in hers as she led him to the van and she felt him stiffen. Quickly she let go and with an apologetic grin, pushed through the crowd of kids.
"One vanilla cone and - what would you like Jack?" she asked once she reached the counter. Jack pointed silently to the picture of the chocolate cone.
"Er - one chocolate too."
The smiling man brought their orders out and as Yori paid him, she noticed Jack looking at the cone with a curious expression on his face.
"Come on," she said. "Let's go for a walk round the park."
Jack nodded and his small pink tounge licked the cone cautiously. He gave a startled jolt and then a small smile crept across his face. Yori watched the evident relish with which he demolished the cone and felt satisfied.
"Was that nice?" she asked, not really expecting an answer.
"Very," Jack said. Now it was her turn to be startled and she nearly fell into a flock of passing ducks. As it was, the mother duck gave a squawk of annoyance and aimed a peck at her foot.
"Oh! I did wonder whether you were mute," she smiled.
"I'm not. I just don't talk to strangers very often," Jack said. His voice was childish and innocent but there was an almost deepness to nodded.
"Where are your parents Jack?"
"Dead," he answered with so little emotion, just a deadpan voice. Yori felt a sudden rush of sympathy and understanding at the longing stares with which he had looked at the small family. "They died in the Zero Reverse accident, all those years ago."
"I'm sorry." What else could she say?
Jack shrugged. "I'm okay. I'm tough." He lapsed into silence.
"Who's looking after you? Do you have a brother or a sister?"
"I'm being fostered," he said. "I have two foster brothers, Yusei Fudo and Crow."
"Are they nice?"
"They're okay," Jack shrugged. "Yusei's a brainiac - really smart. His dad was a scientist or something, but he's real nice."
"Oh," Yori said. She stared at the glittering fountain nearby and became so absorbed that she was nearly startled by his question.
"Do you have any kids?"
"Yes. One girl, Carly Nagisa. Must be your age now."
"I never knew my mom or dad," Jack remarked. "She's lucky to have a mom like you."
Yori felt another wave of sympathy for this lonely boy, this poor lonely boy without his parents, so small and yet so tough. Her gentle heart was moved.
"Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be adopted someday and then you can have a real family."
Jack fixed her with one of his most piercing stares again but this time there was a spark of mute appeal in his eyes. Something - or someone was calling from inside the boy for help, warmth and comfort. Yori took on of the thin hands in her own and gave it a motherly squeeze. Jack didn't look uncomfortable this time but instead he gave a gentle answering squeeze back. His hand felt pathetically small and fragile in her grasp and she felt almost as if it were made of glass.
"I'm all right. Martha's more of a mother to me anyway. She's really nice and she cares for me like a mother you know."
"Yeah. She looks after orphans a lot. I think any orphan who ends up with her is real lucky."
They stood in silence for a while, the small boy and the grown woman hand in hand, staring at the dancing water, and at the glittering lances of sunlight that pierced through the curtains of water and reflected back in prismatic rainbows. Jack's face was wet with spray, and Yori gently wiped it off.
"Oh what a handsome little fellow! Is he your son?"
The voice came from a rather corpulent old lady, clutching a bag to her chest.
"Oh no no," Yori laughed, rather flustered. "I wish he was but - he's just a friend."
"Sweet," the lady trilled. "You take care of him! That face is precious!"
As she waddled off Yori cast a nervous glance at Jack.
Suddenly Jack turned to her and grinned. The smile lit up his face and quite transformed it. He looked sweet and innocent but amongst the innocence, Yori glimpsed the features of the man she was sure he'd become - a very handsome one indeed. Since a smile must evoke an answering one, she smiled back.
"Thanks for the ice-cream," Jack said. "I'd never eaten ice-cream before. It tasted really good."
Her smile faded a little as another wave of sorrow welled up. Ice-cream had been a part of her childhood for as long as she had remembered it and for this boy to grow up not knowing what it was like...
"You're welcome - remember if you'd like some more then wait by the tree each Thursday and I'll buy you some - happily!"
Jack grinned. He pulled on the jacket and waved at her before setting off.
"Wait!" she called after him. "I'll escort you home!"
"Don't," Jack replied suddenly serious. "I live in downtown, in a pretty rough neighbourhood. There're people there who'd rob -or kill - a woman like you 'cause you look pretty rich. Stay here."
"But - you're just a child," she protested feebly. This was not how it should be. A child his age should not be worried about theft and murder. Children should be protected from all this. She clung to that belief.
"Exactly. They don't bother with kids, 'cause we don't usually fetch much as ransom and we don't carry money or valuables anyway. They target the richer kids who wander there by accident though. I'm safe - well a bit."
She nodded grudgingly. Jack gave a small wave and strode off into the distance, a jaunty, arrogant walk, his slender frame soon swallowed among the crowd of people that made their way through the meandering paths.
Yori still stood at the same place, her arm still raised in farewell. A single, solitary tear wormed it's way down her cheek. Solitary. Just like Jack.
She turned away slowly and made her way back, wiping her face but unable to contain her emotions. As tough as Jack had seemed, he still craved love she knew that. She had wanted to take him into her arms and clasp him to her bosom, tell him that all would be right soon but the stubborn nugget of childish pride that had shone through him knew that he would not permit it, that he wanted to appear tough. Even his confident swagger seemed pathetic - a mere charade to ensure that people knew that he knew what he was doing. Don't mess with me. I'll just kick your ass.
She slowly made her way home, trying not to cry too hard. She knew she would never see him again. Just knew. One moment of her life had passed by. One moment that wasn't likely to be forgotten soon.
"I wish Carly could meet him someday," she mused. Suddenly her face went white and deathly pale.
"Oh God! I've forgotten the groceries!!"