Sunday afternoon came, and it began to rain.
Souji Seta pulled slightly at the collar of his shirt. He had left his umbrella at home. Silver streaks tore at the streets and bathed buildings in a soft glow, murmurs of red and green spreading across glass windowpanes, streetlights flickering as cars rumbled past with their wipers flying.
He was crammed with several other people beneath the shelter of a bus stop, waiting for the walking sign to turn. A man suddenly whirled past. He slipped on a streak of mud splashed against the sidewalk and tumbled into the ground; those around Souji winced in sympathy, and the silver-haired teen averted his gaze as the man picked himself up and released a stream of curse words.
When he looked again, the walking signal had turned and people pushed past him to reach the other side of the street. As he moved to join them, something on the sidewalk caught his attention; he swooped to pick it up, his thick hair curtaining his eyes and dripping over what turned out to be a wallet.
His mouth set into a straight line as he stepped back onto the sidewalk and opened it. The awkward smile of the man who had fallen stared back at him through a film of plastic. Christopher Kiefe, it read.
Souji clacked his teeth once and raised his head. The owner was barreling down the wet sidwalk with mud-smeared slacks and hands shoved deeply into the pockets of his trenchcoat. The teen took several running steps, holding the wallet at eye level as he called through the rain.
The man halted and made a sharp turn, dark eyes flickering at Souji as he approached and held out the wallet. "You dropped this."
The man said nothing and checked each of his pockets carefully. Souji waited patiently as he frowned, accepted the wallet, then thumbed it open and counted its contents.
"Thank you," he said finally.
Souji nodded, then hesitated. "Are you all right?"
Christopher flushed slightly, his arms pressing into the trenchcoat. "Yes, I—I was in a hurry. And I didn't think it would rain, it was chilly, you know, but I didn't think—" He trailed off awkwardly, stuffing his face into the collar of his shirt. "U-um. If you could just forget you saw that, it'd make me pretty happy."
A slight amusement trickled into the teen's voice. He held out a soaking hand. "Consider it done. Souji Seta."
Christopher studied him slightly before taking his hand. A smile was spread on his face. "Christopher Kiefe. But I—I guess you already knew that, right? Just call me Chris." There was a slight pause as their hands broke apart. "Sorry if this is rude, but your accent—are you Japanese, by chance?"
"Yes, I am." Souji felt a little self-conscious about that, acutally; his job as a translator back in Inaba gave him plenty of time to work on his English, and he didn't think his accent was that noticable.
Chris seemed to sense his discomfort, and flung up his hands. "Oh, oh, no! I was just wondering! I'm sorry, that was rude, I—I hope you're enjoying America. We're not all morons, not like me."
The self-jab seemed a little too sincere to be joking, which Souji took as a signal to steer the conversation in a different direction. "I'm attending college here. It's a nice country."
"College?" Christopher blinked. "Why would you want to come here?"
Souji gave a slight shrug, which broke into a shiver as the rain continued to prick at his skin. "My parents move around jobs a lot. I don't mind; it gives me a chance to see the world."
"That makes sense." The young man suddenly stiffened, as though remembering something, and shrugged back one of his sleeves to stare a at a watch. "Oh, dammit. I'm really sorry, Souji, I've gotta run."
Souji nodded. It was obvious he was in a hurry. "It was nice meeting you." With a slow grin, he added, "Be careful from now on."
Christopher went red, but smiled as he turned on his heel. "Deal."
He waved as he disappeared around the corner building, and Souji stood in the rain.
He paused, a book perched in his hand, and shut the locker. Quiet gray eyes turned and blinked at the addresser. "Christopher."
"So it is you." Chris's fingers tangled around his chain-link necklace, an embarrassed look grasping at his face. "Talk about a coincidence."
"I've never seen you around campus before," Souji offered. A minor attempt at comforting him, since he looked like he was still hung up on the wallet incident.
But Chris only shrugged, his shock of short, coal-colored hair jostling. "Just faces in a crowd, I guess. What are you, a Freshman?"
"Oh, there. I'm a Senior, we probably don't have the same classes."
He trailed off into an awkward silence. Souji shifted his book into a different hand, then tipped his head back slighly. A soft grin spread across his face. "So, have you fallen lately?"
"Have you ever been out of the country?"
A pause. The silver-haired teen looked up from the lock on his bike chain to where Christopher was fastening his elbow pads, a slight hesitation in his face. "I went to Japan once."
Souji raised an eyebrow. "You did?"
"Yeah." Chris flipped his skateboard and fiddled with the helmet's chin strap, looking uncomfortable. "Few years ago, actually. Family went there for vacation. Didn't know a word of Japanese—had to use one of those stupid Japanese-to-English book thingies."
Souji didn't think they were stupid, but he was a little biased. "How did you like it?"
"It was...eventful," Chris said slowly. He suddenly flipped the skateboard. "Come on, let's get going. The weather said it's gonna rain."
Slightly disoriented by Christopher's unexpected reaction, Souji forgot to ask why he just didn't drive to school on days like this—he had a license, after all.
It wasn't often that Souji had nothing to do on Sundays. Even in America, the attention demanded from part-time jobs, schoolwork, and social obligations combined often kept him busy for the second half of the weekend.
Strangely enough, however, he had received a call from each of his three employers in the morning, telling him that due to weather conditions they had less business and didn't require the extra hands. His homework load was light and finished off on Saturday, and most of the people he hung out with were attending a party that he had little interest in.
By noon, Souji had been left alone with his thoughts long enough to realize that he couldn't remember ever having spent time with Chris on a Sunday. Half-expecting to hear loud music and drunken screaming on the other end, he pulled out his phone and dialed the number.
The voice was strangely hushed, and Souji thought he could hear a slow droning in the background. "Christopher? Are...you busy?"
"Uh...uh, kinda. Sorry, Souji, I'm at church. I can't really—uh, wait, is everything okay? You've never called me on a Sunday—"
"I was going to ask you if you wanted to go somewhere today. I wasn't aware that you went to church." Souji felt his face burning in shame, and clenched the phone tightly between his fingers. "I'm sorry."
"Oh! Oh, no, it's fine! You didn't know, but now you do, so, um—" An audible smack over the line, and Souji hoped that it was him smacking his own forehead. "Uh. I'm cool for hanging out today, no problem. I'll call you when I get out, okay?"
"All right." The line clicked dead, and Souji's fingers felt strangely numb.
"It must be weird here," said Christopher, a fork wedged between his teeth as he stared at Souji's utensil of choice. "I know we're probably way different."
Souji swirled his chopsticks around in the foam cup. "Not as much as you might think. You remind me of one of my friends, actually."
A short laugh from Chris. "I guess young people are the same everywhere. What part of Japan do you come from? Didn't you say that you move a lot?"
"Yes," said Souji, and raised a bite of noodles to his mouth. "Usually in cities, but the person you remind me of lives in a small suburb called Inaba. I went there to live with my Uncle Dojima for a year when I was still in high school."
The fork clattered onto the table; Souji dropped his chopsticks as Christopher's ramen cup toppled over, noodles and bits of vegetable pouring over the table. Broth managed to drip onto Souji's pants before he scraped his chair back and shot up, blinking in slight shock at the mess.
"Oh, shit! Shit!" Chris moaned and dove for the nakpin dispenser, attempting to mop up what he could. Souji stepped forward to help, but an arm suddenly flew out to stop him. "No, It's okay, I'll clean it—goddammit, why does this shit always happen—"
Souji suddenly became very conscious of the fact that they had half the cafeteria watching them. He hesitated, then placed a hand on Christopher's shoulder. A practiced softness took his voice. "You're making a scene."
"I know." The man's words were oddly cold and confused and embarrassed all at once, and he scrambled to snatch up the empty Styrofoam cup, shoving napkins heavy with broth and noodle paste inside.
Souji turned and saw a lunch lady approaching with a sponge in her hand. He shook Chris gently. "She'll finish up. Let's go."
"Sorry, man." Christopher sounded like he was somewhere else as the door closed behind them. "I mess up with this shit all the time."
Souji was familiar with the sluggish pull on his mind that occurred whenever he neared Chris. The link had been reversed.
It started slowly. Fewer words, more stutters. It was harder to make eye contact. Then Souji began noticing that the calls were less frequent, that Chris would linger at the lunch table for a shorter amount of time before excusing himself.
Within two weeks they stopped contact altogether. Calls went to voicemail, texts ignored or responded to with one word. Souji saw a white sedan pulling out of the parking lot every day during lunch, whose driver looked suspiciously like Christopher. Eventually, he began taking taxis to and from school.
Souji didn't know what he did wrong. And he didn't know how to fix it.
"It probably wasn't you, Partner," said a gentle voice over the phone when the topic came up during one of their weekly calls. "You just—HEY! Teddie, don't eat the merchandise!"
"Sorry for troubling you," he muttered.
A click of the tongue translated to static over the line. "Seriously? Dude, maybe it is you. You're allowed to have problems like everyone else, you know."
When Souji woke up at three in the morning on the first Monday of spring break, it was because his cell phone was ringing.
He stumbled over to the coffee table and grabbed for the small object with sleepy hands. Rain was thick on the window as he glared down the fluorescent light, waiting for the words to come into focus.
When they did, he paused. His voice was heavy as he flipped the phone open and held it to his ear. "You've been avoiding me."
"Souji. You gotta tell me—Christ, tell me the truth. I swear to God, if you lie to me, I'm going to kill you myself." Christopher's voice was terrified over the phone, and the fog cleared from Souji's mind in an instant. "Your aunt's name, it was Chisato, wasn't it? Chisato Dojima."
"...What is this about, Chris?"
Silence. A sudden clap of static; Souji pulled the phone away sharply, realizing that the other man must have dropped his own. A voice blasted into his ear as he set it again. "Oh God it is, isn't it? Your aunt's name is Chisato—fuck. Oh my God. Souji, I'm—oh God—"
"Christopher, calm down. I'm taking a taxi over there."
"Souji, I killed her. Your aunt. I killed Chisato Dojima."
Chris was on top of the world.
He didn't think he was doing anything that karma didn't entitle him to. Why would his parents decide to stay in Japan's boonies for vacation when they could be living it up in a living light show like Tokyo or something?
Oh, well. At least the managers of the inn they were staying at had a daughter who was pretty cute, if not completely uninterested in him.
His one solace was the fact that aside from the main highways, many of the roads in Inaba were devoid of cars. Wacky traffic laws or not, there wasn't a teenage boy alive who didn't enjoy pushing his ride through an empty street.
It never even occurred to him whether his license was valid in Japan.
He loved it. The smooth feel of rarely-traveled asphalt rumbling beneath his wheels, the scent of the hills, the chill of fog that sifted through his cracked window. It rained a lot in that town, but the gray clouds only crawled across the sky, content to claim the sun's light as their prize.
As he drove into the hills, a thick mist settled on the ground. A disappointment, since he loved to floor it around the tight curves—nothing was better than the shrill screech of tires, the spike of white adrenaline as two wheels arched off of the ground before slamming back down and barreling forward.
Christopher reached for the fog lights as he saw the first bend, preparing to slow down, but stopped.
The only building on this road, a nursery school, didn't come up for another half-mile or so. Even on clear days, he didn't need to slow down quite yet.
The curve approached. Chris eased his foot from the brakes, and hit the gas.
That's when he saw a woman picking her way across the street.
His coveted adrenaline turned to ice in his veins. He smashed the brakes with all his might and ripped the wheel sideways with white knuckles.
He'll never forget her face as she turned to him, lights streaming onto her wide eyes through the fog.
It felt like hitting a speed bump upside-down. Chris saw her roll up and over his window, heard the sound of flesh stumbling across metal. He still can't remember who screamed louder: the tires, the woman, or him.
Somehow, his hand found its way to the parking lever. He threw his door open and practically fell out, vomit fresh in his throat as he staggered toward where she lay crumpled in the fronds on the side of the road. Blood streaked the asphalt like a kindergartner's project.
"Miss?" His voice was raw in his throat as he drew closer.
A sudden wind parted the fronds. Her neck was broken and twisted towards him, a gaping mouth and empty eyes still stretched wide. Christopher moaned and fell backwards onto his rear—scarlet dripping lazily from her nose and mouth, her arm twisted such a wrong way, the cruel curiosity of bugs already investigating—he gagged, flipped over onto his palms, and began to retch.
As vomit gushed from his mouth, his eyes refused to screw shut—he knew he would only see her wide eyes. Instead, he caught sight of her purse, lying only a few inches from his hand and with its contents spilled over onto the ground.
An ID card stared back at him. Written first in kanji, and then in plain English lettering.
For what felt like hours, with tears pouring down his face, stomach clenching painfully, his mouth hot with acid, he read her name through blurred eyes.
Then it began to rain.
He wiped his mouth and got to his feet shakily, face burning far too hot for someone who had just spent fifteen minutes in the fog. Already the weather began striking his vomit from the concrete. He knew that would make him harder to find.
Oh God. He could be found out.
He could get in trouble for this.
Memories passed. None of which held enough significance to stick. The only thing he remembers is rain against his windshield, and the faintest outline of a pale woman in a dress as she smiled at him through the fog.
"I need you to do this for me, Souji."
"He'll be uncontrollable. He might hurt you."
"You'll go to jail."
"I know. I need to. It's okay."
He pulled the phone from his pocket, dialed the number, and waited.
"Souji? You're up early for a kid on spring break." Dojima's rough Japanese barreled through the phone happily. "Actually, I was going to call you later today. Since you and Nanako are both on break—"
"Uncle," he interrupted. "How good is your English?"
"Well—decent, I guess. Took a few courses during training. I was going to suggest you come down here and see all your friends again, but I think we can arrange for everyone to see America if you'd like to show them around."
"I need you to be here as soon as you can. Tomorrow. Later today." He paused. "As soon as you can."
"...Souji, what the hell is going on?"
"Bring Nanako, but only her. As soon as you can, Uncle."
"I'll be there."
"Thank you." He hung up.
A sudden warmth spread through his cold bones, soft words whispering a symphony. The Tower.
Thank you for reading.