PART FIVE: Simple Solution
Tomoyo woke up to the crinkle of paper folded in her right hand. Warm red rays of light from the setting sun peered through the incompletely drawn curtains and fell against the white wall. She drew in a sharp breath and struggled to keep her eyes open, her body still heavy from an unusually deep slumber. She opened the piece of paper and tried to focus her sight on the light, slanted strokes of Eriol's handwriting:
"I've extended your stay in the hotel. Take care. -E.H."
She scanned the short note a few more times before a sickening feeling made her lurch forward in bed. She was, indeed, alone in the room. There was no sign that there ever was another person in the room with her.
She contemplated the small piece of paper for another moment, deciding whether to keep it or throw it away in the nearby bin; its uncaring brevity and shallow terseness painfully gnawed away at her composure.
Of course he would do that.
Hastily stuffing the paper into her pocket, she swallowed down the tingling initiation of a sob and went to the faucet to splash her face with water.
"You didn't have to leave so rudely."
Sonomi Daidouji- or her spirit, rather- raised a judgmental brow and rested her chin on her knuckles. Her eyes darted from Eriol and back to the window.
Eriol ignored her and remained focused on packing his clothes.
"If she's at all related to you, she'll quickly come to her senses and get back to her studies."
"What worries me is that she'll work herself to death. You're the only one that seems to be able to reel her back into sanity, regardless of your liberal use of drugs."
"I'm sure she'll find happiness. Maybe not with Sakura, maybe not with me. But she'll find her happiness the way you want her to. I'll make sure of it."
Eriol smiled weakly.
"What about yourself?" Sonomi inquired.
"Your daughter helped me sleep for the first time in days. I'm really quite satisfied."
Sonomi made a less-than-impressed expression.
"You're what they call an insufferable twat, aren't you?"
"I suppose it comes with being magical."
There was a brief moment of silence before Sonomi spoke again.
"Did you take care of the box like I asked you to?"
"You know I did."
Sonomi nodded and offered a sympathetic smile before fading away.
A rush of relief overcame Tomoyo the moment she stepped on the plush carpet of her home. The past few days seemed to shrivel into the back of her mind like a strange dream.
Something in the corner of her eye caught her attention. It was a polished redwood box that belonged to her and her mother that she hadn't seen in years. Next to the box rested a metal key and a small card with a familiar disdainful handwriting.
"Take this box and key to Fujitaka Kinomoto. Your mother requests this of you. Thank him for her."
Not sure whether to take this seriously or not, Tomoyo contemplated for a moment in silence before groaning and picking up the box and heading out the door.
She gulped at the sight of the sunny Kinomoto residence and hesitated before ringing the doorbell. What if it was Sakura who answered the door instead? Or Touya? She stared at the box in her hands and pressed the button for the bell.
The tall and bespectacled professor, his light brown hair now streaked with gray, opened the door and widened his eyes in surprise.
"Tomoyo! What brings you here?"
Suddenly feeling embarrassed, Tomoyo nearly threw the box into his chest and felt an urgency to leave.
"I-I was asked to bring this to you. It's my mother's... I guess now It's yours."
Fujitaka looked baffled, unsure of what to say.
"Would you like to come in?"
The aroma of tea and baked goods swirled under her nose. She was always impressed with his wide range of abilities; not only was he intelligible and a respected figure in his department, he was also a wonderful father and cook. Tomoyo almost nodded and felt her legs attempt to step into the house.
She quickly shook her head and stretched her mouth into an apologetic smile.
"N-no thank you, I should get going."
"Well, at least take some cookies I just made. I always make too much to eat by myself. Wait right here."
Before she could protest, he turned to go into the kitchen. She waited uncomfortably, looking down at her shoes and around at the trees. Fujitaka returned with a brown bag, neatly folded closed at the top.
"Here you go. I hope you like chocolate." He smiled.
Tomoyo slowly accepted the bag, concentrating on its color and not the face that looked so similar to Eriol's. Here was a man who had lost two women he loved. He had been rejected by his wife's in-laws and had to raise two children on his own. Yet here he was, smiling, in a clean house that smelled of warm chocolate and sugar, holding out a bag of extra cookies he packed for a girl who hadn't spoken to him in months.
"My mom... er... I wanted to..." she could feel tears welling up in her eyes. She quickly dabbed them away and continued, "I want to thank you."
"Oh it's nothing, I bake all the time."
"No, I wanted to take you for making my mother... happy."
Fujitaka's smile changed.
"Ah, this is a bit embarrassing. Your mother wasn't sure if she would tell you..."
"You were both happy with each other, and all other matters were secondary. I'm... I'm glad it was you."
"I never would have thought your mother would have such a change of heart with me. But I'm glad I could make her happy."
"Were you? Happy?" Tomoyo wanted to kick herself for sounding like an idiot, but the professor took it kindly.
"I can feel both Nadeshiko and Sonomi's presence with me. They're always near, and I couldn't be happier. It's difficult to keep from crying and getting angry and cursing when you lose someone so dear to you."
Tomoyo wasn't one to offer motions of condolence, but something in the way the faint wrinkles around his eyes and mouth appeared and the way his fine hair swept down over his forehead made her lift her arm and touch Fujitaka's arm.
He continued, "But you build strength when you make yourself move on and feel better. You mother was a generous and strong woman. She loved you very much."
Tomoyo dabbed at her eyes and nose and grinned, feeling awfully silly.
"Thanks for the cookies. I- I hope you like the box."
"You're welcome, and you're free to visit anytime you'd like. Sakura's missed you a lot."
She clutched the bag and bobbed her head in a nod before quickly turning and walking away from the house. She put a hand in the bag and reached for a warm cookie, breaking off a portion and stuffing it in her mouth.
The pangs of hunger began to shoot forth as she bit into the soft pastry. Tears began to flow out of her eyes as she tried to chew.
Fujitaka's attention turned to the box he had momentarily set on the counter. A small silver key was attached to its side. He took it off to unlock the front of the box, and he opened the polished lid to see a bouquet of dried sakura blossoms and a satin pouch that appeared to contain a tiny eraser that Sakura used as a child. The browned flowers were tiny and brittle, but he recognized them quickly; this was Nadeshiko's wedding bouquet. He brushed his fingers lightly over the flowers, smiling at their light rustle.
There was a small lavender card on the velvet bottom of the box. He took the piece of paper and held it up in front of his eyes, his vision having gotten blurry with age.
"For the kind, patient and caring Professor Kinomoto who taught me how to enjoy the world.
Yours truly, Sonomi Daidouji."
"I thought you hated sappy notes," Fujitaka said with a light smile.
"Sometimes, sappy fits the bill." Sonomi replied with a quick raise of her brow.
Fujitaka looked sadly at the shining gold band around his finger. He met Sonomi's curious glance and, exchanging small smiles, he twisted it off and placed it on the dark velvet of the inside of the box.
"Like I've said before, I think we did pretty well for single working parents. I'm sure Tomoyo will come around soon and make you proud."
Sonomi slid her fingers against the back of his neck, her soft and otherworldly touch feeling like a cool breeze against his skin.
"I'm already proud of her. I've been proud of her since she was born."
Tomoyo lied down on her bed with a heavy sigh, her mind drawing nothing but a fuzzy blur. There were too many things to think about and worry over, and another bout of exhaustion began to set in. The new academic semester was to begin rather soon and her mother's company was now in her hands. And he...
He was certainly the strangest thing to happen in her life. A three-day-long marathon of alcohol and drugs had become a short vacation with an cold, awkward end. She placed her arm over her eyes and pushed away thoughts of his voice, hair, face and touch.
He stormed into her life without an explanation and ran away just the same.
Eriol as far as she knew, was gone.
End Note: I'm still not quite sure if should should be the end or not. Time will tell. As always, thanks for reading.