Summary: Kyoko was unprepared to listen when Ren made the mistake of speaking his true feelings, and she ran away. Now she is more mature, but she is unwilling to forgive herself for her childish action. Will Ren be able to win his way back to her side before another man claims her heart?
Disclaimer: I do not own SkipBeat! or any of the manga's characters. All of the rest is the invention of my odd, restless mind.
Chapter 1 – The Mysterious Young Lady
As the ferry eased towards the dock, a middle-aged stocky man waited. He couldn't be described as handsome, but his ever-present smile and the twinkle in his eyes usually made people look twice. Many of the people stepping off of the ferry were tourists coming to spend a day or more walking the beautiful island. Several were locals, and each of them invariably made some sort of friendly or respectful gesture to the man.
He greeted each of the locals in his usual kindly manner, asking about their businesses, their families, their schools. He knew each one of them by name, and he usually knew the reasons that they had been away. He glanced up to the pilot house of the ferry, where he could see the man he was waiting for laughing with the captain. Both men looked down from the elevated pilot house, saw the man waiting, and waved. The two men in the pilot house exchanged handshakes before the new arrival grabbed his bag and ran down the stairs.
"Mayor Namuro, it's really good to see you!" Rather than a handshake, they exchanged a back-slapping hug. "You didn't need to wait here for me."
"Sure I did, Chief Takage. After all, I was the one who lured you back with promises of wealth and fame."
Takage laughed good-naturedly, "Wealth and fame, Mayor? On Ukita Island? Sure, sure." He laid a companionable hand on the shorter man's shoulder as they walked off of the pier. He was a tall man, handsome and muscular with a strong jawline that set the girls' hearts racing. At twenty-five years old he looked like a man who could own the world someday… if that was what he wanted. "Mayor, this is my home. I always planned on coming back. I had hoped… have you heard from Akemi?"
Namuro sighed, "Not a word, Keitaro; she seems to be off making her own life. I was hoping that she might seek you out while you were working in Kobe."
Takage Keitaro shook his head, "She knew that I wanted to come back here someday. If I would have wanted to work my way up the ladder in Tokyo, things would have gone different… but… our dreams are different."
They were silent as they finished their trek off of the pier and walked to the mayor's car. Once they were seated, buckled, and on their way, the older man glanced over at the younger man, "Well, things might not be as uneventful for you as you feared. We've got ourselves a real mystery on Ukita… in a pretty little package too."
Keitaro looked over and saw the familiar teasing smile on the mayor's face, "Okay, boss, you've got me interested. Who is she?"
Mayor Namuro grinned, "That, young man, is the mystery. She showed up somewhere around early April, about one year ago. Her name is Asahi Fumiko, or at least that's the name that she gave. She's been working for Morishita ever since she arrived." He waited silently, knowing that the new police chief would react to that information.
Just as he expected, it drew a strong reaction from Takage, "She's working for Morishita! And she's lasted for a year?" Keitaro scratched his head, "Now that is interesting. How in the world did she manage it?"
"Don't know; one day I showed up for breakfast, and there she was waiting to greet me. She was dressed as an Okami-san, and she played the part perfectly. Pretty little lady, too. She cooks really well, too."
"He let her into his kitchen!" Keitaro whistled, "He never lets anyone in his kitchen. Now I really have to meet this young lady. So why is she a mystery?"
"She never talks about herself… not a word. She has these beautiful golden eyes, almost startling when you first see them… but sad; like she's had an unhappy past of something. She's always smiling and polite, but you can see that there's something behind those eyes." The Mayor grinned, "I'll tell you this: there's many a young man who's decided to be the one to wipe away that sadness."
Keitaro's policeman instincts were fully alert now, "You said she gave her name as Asahi Fumiko? What makes you think that's not her real name?"
The mayor snorted, "How else? Our intrepid reporter, Ochida Tamiko, of course. You know that Ochida sees a mystery behind every tree and under every rock. Asahi hadn't been here a week before Ochida was on the scent. She ran a full background check on the name Asahi Fumiko. There are twenty-three women with that name in Japan. None of them match our young lady. Add the fact that Asahi-san never talks about herself and you have yourself an interesting little mystery."
Keitaro chuckled, "I'm surprised that we still have a mystery with Editor Ochida on the case. She hasn't found out anything in a whole year?"
"Not a thing. There are no missing-persons records, no warrants, nothing to indicate that our young mystery lady is in any sort of trouble."
"I'd like to meet her."
"Of course. Why else do you think I would be driving you to the Morishita Ryoken?"
Morishita was an elderly man with a reputation for being impossible to work for. He disagreed. As far as he was concerned, the younger generation… which included anyone under fifty… was useless and lazy. His deceased wife, Umeko, always told him that he was just too cantankerous. He missed Umeko for a thousand reasons. She had been his other half. She had everything that he lacked. She had been gracious, beautiful, friendly, and hospitable… and for some reason she had loved him; despite his many faults.
The straight truth was that he had tried to find someone to take over the position of Okami-san. Everyone he had tried had failed miserably to come near the standard she had set. Eventually the ladies, young and old alike, had stopped applying. Just his reputation was enough to frighten them off. For several years his family ryokan had been in decline. He tried to be a good host, but he lacked the qualities necessary to make people feel comfortable around him. He was even considering closing or selling; until she came along.
He glanced away from his own cutting board to look fondly at Asahi Fumiko. He still couldn't decide if she was pretty or not. When he had first seen her, she had looked… plain? But there had been a fire in those golden eyes that had reminded him of his Umeko. They didn't look alike, really, but they both had the same fire. It was as if the spirit inside could barely be contained in such a small body. He had been interested right away.
Despite that, he wasn't encouraging toward her at first. In fact, he knew perfectly well that he had probably been outright cold and inhospitable. But Asahi Fumiko, as she named herself, hadn't been scared away. "Please, sir. Allow me the chance to prove myself; I promise not to disappoint you."
She kept her promise. She has started by cleaning the entire hotel from top-to-bottom. She had polished every floor, dusted every surface, and aired out every room. Morishita had looked out of his kitchen window during his lunch preparations to see that every futon in the hotel was draped on a rail. The golden-eyed girl was surrounded by a cloud of dust as she pounded each mattress with a paddle. By the end of the first day the ryokan was beginning to show signs of life again.
He couldn't complain about her work ethic, but he was positive that he would be able to eliminate her in some other way. His first attempt was the tea ceremony for the mayor and his wife. As far as he was concerned, Umeko had performed the tea ceremony to perfection. Children these days have lost all of the arts of hospitality, he thought, I'll simply disqualify this girl by having her perform the tea ceremony for the mayor. After she humiliates herself, it will be easy to send her packing. But she hadn't humiliated herself. In fact, Morishita had to grudgingly admit that her tea ceremony was almost as good as his wife's had been. That's just fine. I'll just keep the mayor and his wife talking. Kids these days don't have the endurance to sit still on their knees for an extended period. Let's see how long she can hold her smile after her legs start hurting. Once again, she had outlasted him.
The mayoral couple had been enchanted by the girl. She was not only polite, but she was seemed to possess the knack for keeping the couple talking. Long after he had run out of things to talk about, the girl had carried on a lively conversation. The position of Okami-san was unique in that the matron must always shape her own actions to the needs of the guests. If guests wish to remain undisturbed, then the okami must serve them without making a sound. If the guests wish to talk with the staff, then the matron must become a pleasant conversationalist. He could see now that Asahi Fumiko had been formally trained. There was one other thing he noticed, and the mayoral couple noticed it as well: the girl never talked about her past. She was always polite with inquiries, but her answers were always vague.
Probably because he was cantankerous, he continued to look for an excuse to get rid of her. The final straw came when Morishita suddenly fell sick. A flu swept the island during peak season and Morishita suddenly collapsed. He spent a week in bed, his mind wandering in a sea of delirium. When he finally pushed through the fuzz of sickness and medication, the first question he had asked was about his ryokan. "Did she shut it down properly, Doctor?"
The doctor chuckled, "Not at all. She ran the place all by herself with a full complement of guests… well actually she hired two school girls to help in the front while she was doing the cooking…"
"WHAT!" Morishita sat up abruptly, causing dizziness and nausea, but he still managed to speak through gritted teeth, "A woman invaded my kitchen?"
Doctor Yoshioka put a firm hand on the elderly man's chest and pushed him back down, "Yes, she did. And did a fine job of it, I have to tell you. She can't be more than eighteen or nineteen, but she cooks like a trained chef. And stop fretting; your precious kitchen is spotless. Where in the world did you find this girl?"
Morishita was still disturbed by the idea of someone in his kitchen, but now his head was hurting. Grumbling, he answered, "She just washed up on shore… heck, I don't know." The medicine he had been given took effect and he drifted back into sleep.
Word spreads quickly on a small island like Ukita. In the off-season the population seldom exceeded twelve-hundred people; and everyone there knew everyone else. In the tourist season the population could increase to approximately ten-thousand. Some of the visitors owned vacation homes on the island; some of these had made the effort to get to know the locals. Most of the others neither knew nor cared about the locals. So when someone new showed up on the off season and bearded the most difficult local in his den, word spread.
Nothing fuels interest like a mystery. Asahi Fumiko just kept adding to the mystery. Morishita was impossible to work for, but she had practically taken over. Morishita never allowed anyone near his kitchen, but she was often seen helping with the prep and even creating special desserts. She had a fire in her eyes, but she dealt with drunk and belligerent customers without ever displaying her temper. She was clearly trained for this type of work, yet she couldn't be much more than a teenager. Even as a teen she had perfect posture, perfect manners, and the unflappable self-control of a middle aged okami. Add to this the fact that she never talked about herself, and she always had some sad quality behind her eyes.
The theories were endless: She was orphaned by a tragic accident. She had lost her lover in a tragic accident. She had run away from an arranged marriage. She had committed a terrible crime and was in hiding. Whatever the truth was, the mystery was highly attractive. The men of the island were fascinated. The women were either interested, or jealous, or both at the same time. The teen aged girls were completely intrigued. Two girls in particular, Satoko and Maki, couldn't stay away. Their families had lived on the island for generations, and they found the place to be terribly boring. So when stories of the mystery girl began to spread, they became regular customers of the ryokan's restaurant.
They had been the ones who had helped in the restaurant when Morishita had fallen sick. Their own families were involved in the tourist industry, so they had some experience. But they hadn't been prepared for the way that Ashita Fumiko had quickly organized and trained them; nor had they been prepared to see a girl who was only slightly older than they were working like a top chef in the sacred kitchen of the owner. Their fascination in Fumiko, and their friendship with the girl, had grown from that moment.
They were there, sipping on tea, when the mayor and a very handsome young man walked in. They watched as Fumiko bowed politely and escorted them towards a table. As expected, Mayor Namuro made a slight detour to greet the two girls. "Satako-san, Maki-san, how nice to see you. I see that you are in your usual spot."
Both girls bowed from their seated position, and tried to compose themselves in the presence of the mayor's handsome guest. Satako answered, "Mayor Namuro, how nice to see you."
"Please allow me to introduce our new Chief of Police, Takage Keitaro. Of course, you might remember him from school, though you were only in elementary school at the time." The mayor smiled teasingly as he watched the girls' fascinated, blushing glances. He knew perfectly well that Keitaro had been the most sought-after young man in school during his time on the island.
Maki managed to say, "Oh, yes, I do recall you from school, Chief Takage. You've been gone so long that we didn't recognize you."
Keitaro was struggling to keep his eyes from drifting over to the pretty okami-san with the golden eyes as he replied, "I'm pleased to meet both of you. I haven't been back here since I left in my junior year, but I've kept myself informed through the mayor's family… and I always intended to return."
The mayor bowed, "Ladies, if you'll excuse us? We shouldn't keep the Okami-san waiting."
The two men followed the slender figure in the traditional garb of the hostess back to a private table. As they took their seats, the mayor spoke again, "Ashita-okami-san, if the schedule allows, I would like to bring my wife and Chief Takage back here later this evening and enjoy your tea ceremony."
Takage Keitaro watched the young lady in fascination as she executed a perfect bow, "Of course, Mayor Namuro. I will make arrangements for eight, if that will work with your schedule?"
"Of course; For now we'll both have whatever special dish your boss is serving."
The mayor watched his new police chief as the young man followed the young lady with his eyes. He felt a twinge of sadness that his own daughter was not here with Keitaro. Akemi, I know you wanted a different life, but you threw away a good man. I hope you don't regret it. "Interesting young lady; isn't she, Chief?"
Keitaro frowned slightly, as if searching for a memory, "Yes, she is. She seems… familiar… somehow."
Satoko and Maki walked down the main street away from the ryokan. "Wow, he's dreamy! I wish that I was old enough to catch his eye. Did you see that way he looked at Fumiko-san?"
"I know!" Maki sighed dramatically, "She's only about a year older than we are, but she seems so much older. But she'll probably ignore him, just like all of the others. I swear, Satoko, nobody can be that clueless. She has to know that they're interested."
"I think she's already in love with someone," Satoko asserted. This was her favorite theory about their mysterious friend. "He did her wrong, but she still cares about him. That's why she won't look at another man."
"I don't know, Satoko," Maki replied, "If she was really in love with someone, why would she have run away. And why does she always turn scary whenever we mention the word love?" She shuddered, remembering the cold feeling that surrounded them on the two occasions they had tried to talk to their golden-eyed friend.
Two hours later the girl in-question knelt before an ornate table and prepared tea under the friendly gazes of Mayor Namura and his wife. At the same time she was doing her best to ignore the intense gaze of the handsome young man she had met earlier. She felt as if he was trying to discover her secrets; and she didn't want to share her secrets.
Despite her feeling of discomfort, none of this was evident in her posture of performance. She moved with the grace of a trained professional. Every movement, every expression was perfectly controlled. The tea ceremony, done right, is beautiful to watch. Keitaro had intended to use his investigative skills to study the young lady, but instead he found himself to be fascinated by her. If she was aware of his interest, she hid it well.
Just as others had done before him, he found his mind trying to decide if the girl was beautiful or not. She was definitely not supermodel material, but there was a quality about her that fascinated him. Like watching the light play off of the facets of a diamond, Keitaro was caught up in watching the candlelight play off of the mysterious girl. It was her eyes that fascinated him the most. It was as if light were shining from within her rather than reflecting from without.
He was so intent that the mayor had to nudge him into awareness. Startled, suddenly realized that the young lady was looking directly at him expectantly. Only then did he realize that the tea-sweet had been set in front of him. "Forgive me, I was drifting off." He put the sweet, inside wrapper and all, onto his tongue, closed his mouth, and allowed it to begin to melt on his tongue. Then he took the chawan, the tea bowl, set it on his left hand, turned the bowl three times, and began drinking. The tea was slightly bitter, as expected, but he sweet in his mouth blended with it to create the perfect flavor. As he finished the bowl, he slurped to indicate that he truly enjoyed the tea. He wiped the part of the bowl that he had touched with his right hand, repeated the turning of the bowl in reverse, and set the bowl down in front of the young okami.
Keitaro felt slightly flushed when the young lady nodded in acknowledgment of his actions. He had learned the tea ceremony as a young child, but never before had he been so pleased that he had been forced to learn it properly.
For the moment, the investigator was gone, and only the young man remained… and the young man joined the ranks of the other men who each decided that they would be the one to wipe away the sadness in the young lady's eyes.
When the trio of visitors had finally left, and after the okami-san had ensured that each of the current guests was well-situated for the evening, and after she had said her good-nights to Morishita Masamoru, the young lady returned to her room and picked up her cell-phone. She dialed the number by-heart, sat on her bed, and waited for the answering voice.
"Hello, Kyoko-chan, how was your day?"
"Good evening, Moko-san, it was fine. And how was filming? I read in the paper that…"
Notes: Ukita Island is a fictional island. I tried to find an island that would fit the storyline that I will follow, but none precisely met the requirements. Besides, since all of my information would be based on internet research, I could more easily slip-up and make a mistake. This fictional island therefore contains many of the features of the different islands that I read about in my research.
Please don't worry, I am still working on The Shadow's Heart. This story has been rolling around in my head ever since I wrote My Important Man, so I wanted to get it out so that I can focus on completing the other story. I wrote this first chapter on my trip, and am now submitting it to you.
This will be much different from my other stories, but I hope that you can still enjoy it.